Posted in cooking, Life

The joy of rhubarb

I had heard of rhubarb. My dad used to speak of it. I had seen a “rhubarb” break out at a ballgame when players poured out of the dugout to trade blows on the field.

But the first time I encountered rhubarb was in Iowa. I’m a city mouse, born and raised in suburban Philadelphia. Iowa was all about farming, where my wife, the county mouse, would feel at home. We moved into our Iowa home in the late spring of 1991. As soon as the snow melted and the days got longer in 1992, the rhubarb sprouted in our backyard. The red celery-like stalks and large green leaves baffled me. What was this?

We lived in Iowa for five years and learned that you don’t have to do anything to grow rhubarb. It sprouts and grows every spring and produces magnificent plants. The big question: what do you do with rhubarb?

The easy answer: make a pie. Rhubarb pie. Strawberry rhubarb pie. My wife makes an incredible pie crust using her grandmother’s recipe. And she made some incredible rhubarb pies. The second secret to a great rhubarb pie? Lots and lots of sugar. (The first secret is to use ice water when you make the crust.)

A straight rhubarb pie is delicious. But beware, it will clean you out. (You know what I mean.) Strawberry-rhubarb is delicious, too, with a little more natural sweetening and a little less natural fiber.

Fast forward to 2023. We’ve been living in Florida for 26 years. Rhubarb doesn’t grow in Florida. But strawberries do. And they are ripe and plentiful in March. We went to a strawberry festival last weekend and bought a flat. that is twelve pints of strawberries. I bought that flat with my wife’s promise, “I’ll make you a strawberry rhubarb pie.” Deal.

So I head off to the store to buy rhubarb. Every once in a while I can find frozen rhubarb in the freezer section of the store. No such luck on this trip. Well, maybe it’s in the frozen vegetable section. Nope. I finally asked a manager, “Sometimes you have rhubarb – where would I find it?”

He whipped out his smartphone and checked the inventory. “We’ve got fifteen pounds in produce.”

“Ok,” I said, “I’m headed over there.” At the other end of the store, I asked another manager, “Do you have any rhubarb?”

He disappeared into a cooler and came out with a huge box. “How much do you need?”

“Not that much,” I replied. “How about a pound?” He cut and wrapped up about 8 nice stalks and I was on my way home with fresh rhubarb.

The secret to baking rhubarb, besides lots of sugar, is peeling the strings off the back of the stalks. As my wife laboriously peeled, she said, “That’s the virtue of frozen rhubarb – no peeling.”

This year’s strawberry-rhubarb pies (a big one and some little ones) are in the oven. I’ll let you know exactly how delicious they are!

Posted in cooking, kitchen

Gettin’ zesty with it

Right after we went and picked ten pounds of blueberries, I made scones with a recipe that called for orange zest. Not knowing any better I shouted, “Hey, do we have any orange zest?”

Of course not. You zest an orange, or a lemon, or a lime, to get the zest, little pieces of the rind, for flavoring in cooking. Okay, so how do I obtain some zest? Duh. With a zester. “Honey, where’s our zester?”

After rummaging around in the kitchen, I found this trusty and rusty old four-sided grater that might work. I don’t even remember using this before. The smallest and the largest sides didn’t seem right, so I tried second largest one. It kind of worked, but quickly got jammed up with rind. What about the next-largest one? Those pieces of rind were a little large, so I had to chop them up finer with a knife.

Time to level up. This looked like a good zester. Amazon choice. Pretty cheap too.

But not cheaply made. Sturdy, curved, stainless, and easy to clean, this ought to do the trick. Before I received it, the seller sent along instructions and tips. Lightly oil the grater. Be sure to wash the fruit. Only zest the colored part of the rind, avoid the white.

Worked like a charm.

I wondered who came up with the idea of using citrus rind in this way? Here’s what I learned:

According to SPICEography, people began incorporating lemon zest in recipes around the 15th century, but the word “zest” didn’t become a part of cooking vocabulary until the 17th century. French culture popularized lemon zest as a key ingredient for sweetening and flavoring pastries. Today, lemon zest is a commonly used, highly versatile ingredient that is used in both sweet and savory dishes. (Read More:

More and more of my cooking, especially E2M recipes and seasonings, use lemon and lime zest. Now I’m zesting with the best!