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!