Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rhubarb: An Uncommon Vegetable

Okay, I'm downright confused. I admit to being a Yankee. A Yankee living in West Georgia. But, what is it with Southerners?? They've never tasted (and in some cases, never heard of) RHUBARB?!?!

I wrote, what I thought was a very poignant memoir about my grandmother. She not only tended an amazing garden filled with tomatoes, corn, cabbage, well, all the typical Southern Indiana garden stuff...she also grew rhubarb from which she'd make the best rhubarb pie this side of the Mississippi.

I decided to read my story, remembering rhubarb pie... to my critique group. When I'd finished reading, I quietly took my glasses off and sat there, expectantly, waiting for the critiques to roll.

The first question took me by surprise. No, surprise isn't strong enough. It was jaw dropping.

"What's rhubarb?"

Tell me I didn't just hear that. What's rhubarb? Do these people come from some cave-dwelling society? Some never-before-seen culture that hasn't cut into a golden crust and pulled out a forkfull of the sweet/sour mushiness that is rhubarb?

Please, people! Tell me that someone out there has, at the very least, heard of rhubarb! That's all I want. And, don't...I repeat, DON'T tell me about your great-aunt's strawberry-rhubarb pie. That's just wrong.

* Rhubarb's Appearance In America:

Early records of rhubarb in America identify an unnamed Maine gardener as having obtained seed or root stock from Europe in the period between 1790-1800. He introduced it to growers in Massachusetts where its popularity spread and by 1822 it was sold in produce markets.


Church Lady said...

Hence my confusion entirely when I assumed rhubarb came from the south?! It's from the North?

I guess I have to wait for the story to unfold to learn more things about this strange pie.

Mary Cunningham said...

Hence, MY confusion, Church Lady! I'm beginning to think that Rhubarb pie originated in my grandmother's kitchen!

Actually, it originated in China as a medicine. But, more about that, later

Word said...

Hi Mary -

What? How could anyone not know what rhubarb is?

When I was a kid - everyone had gardens - and everyone had rhubarb growing in it - and every parent warned their kids never to eat the leaves.

There was always rhubarb something for desert when it came into season. ((Poor me - no amount of disguising this aweful plant with sugar or cinnamon or sugar or more sugar was enough for me. I couldn't stand it back then.))

Of course now I love the tart taste.

I had a friend who could eat it raw. UHG! I was sure she would die a horrible rhubarb death. Surely the leaves had touched the stalk at some point.

Oh well - Rhubarb I know. Collard greens and okra? What planet do those come from?


Mary Cunningham said...

Oh, I'm so glad someone knows rhubarb!! Thanks for your comments, word.

I guarantee, if you'd eaten my grandmother's rhubarb pie, you woulda loved it! It was never too tart. Always the right amount of sugar. YUMMMMM!!

(I miss my grandma)

Melissa said...

i grew up in NC, and i do know what it is, but only vaguely, to be honest. i've had rhubarb pie though!

now if you'd said okra, the southerners would be right with you!

Mary Cunningham said...

My grandmother used to grow okra, too, Melissa. She would stew it with tomatoes, onions, and corn. Even as a kid, I loved it! I think most southerners eat it fried, though. I love it that way, too.

Speaking of fried; I had my first fried pickles when I moved to Georgia! Oh...they are the best!!!

Thanks for stopping by.

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

I think the new varieties of things people try to grow in places where they haven't traditionally been grown are fascinating. However, I also think it's fascinating what did not spread heavily to certain areas of the country. I wonder why that's the case with rhubarb. Associations with Yankees from the Civil War? Who knows?

I grew up in Georgia. I'd heard of rhubarb but hadn't eaten it till recently (and that was in Seattle--and it was, in fact, in a strawberry-rhubarb pie, which may be ridiculous but was ridiculously good). I've seen rhubarb in the farmer's market and/or grocery store before, though, because I knew what it looked like in its raw form.

Mary Cunningham said...

Thanks for your comments, Sally. Even though I grew up in Southern Indiana, I assumed rhubarb was a southern plant. It seems to be more prevalent in the north, however, because of the growing conditions.

Take peaches, for instance. In Southern Indiana there was a large peach orchard about 20 miles west. Once a year, we'd travel to Tower Orchard and stock up on peaches. My grandmother would can for days. I'm sure my memory has glorified those peaches beyond their actual greatness because, everyone knows...peaches come from Georgia!

Thanks for stopping by!

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

I talked to the lead farmer at my CSA, and she says that rhubarb won't grow this far South because we don't have a long enough cold season. So there you go!

Mary Cunningham said...

Thanks for the info, Sally. I figured it was too warm down here (although not THIS week!). I sure miss it. My grandmother had a huge crop, and made the best rhubarb pie I've ever tasted.

Mmmm...I sure miss it.

Cris said...

I too have fond memories of my Grandmother's rhubarb patch. My cousin and I would go out there with a bowl of sugar and a knife and would eat raw rhubarb until we were ill! I would love to be able to grow it here in Georgia, and I may give it a go as I have to buy frozen to make strawberry rhubarb jam and pie! What a shame that these southerners have missed what a glorious treat fresh rhubarb is!

Mary Cunningham said...

Thanks, Cris, for sharing your memories about your grandmother's rhubarb. It's so sad to go into Publix (or any local grocery) and see a spindly amount of rhubarb for $$$. And, it's not even enough to make a decent pie!

Thanks for your comment. Stop by again!

Anonymous said...

from Ruth in atlanta, ga. - I too am from the north and love to make rhubarb jam and pies. Cris' comment about growing it here, I have tried 3 different times to do so but it's just too hot in the summer. The early spring it grows good but the stalks are the size of a little finger and only about 8-10 inches tall. So sad and spindly. Then in the fall the roots rot and you have to buy new roots. I just buy the frozen, but can't seem to find an outlet any more. I now live in Winder, Ga. If someone knows where I can buy some, just comment back to this page.

Mary Cunningham said...

Dear Ruth,

So good to hear from you. I'm west of Atlanta and haven't even tried to grow rhubarb. I guess, from your experience, there's no need to try. So sad because we can't even get good rhubarb around here.

If you ever find a good place, please let me know and I'll do the same.

I may be in Winder early next year! I'll be doing a booksigning for "WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty" and my young reader series, "Cynthia's Attic."

Small world! We just went past there yesterday coming home from a library (media) convention in Athens.

Thanks for your comments.

Donna said...

I would love to have your recipe for rhubarb pie. I'm from South Dakota, and have beautiful rhubarb plants. I usually get 2 cuttings of it in the summer. Believe this or not, I love to eat it raw with salt on it! If you would share your pie recipe, send it to me at I loved reading all the stories. My son lives in Augusta GA. and has been told it won't grow there. Disappointing!! Thanks for your time. Donna

Mary Cunningham said...

Hi Donna,

So glad you stopped by. Sorry, but I don't have my grandmother's recipe for rhubarb pie - just her pie crust.

All the recipes, especially the Southern ones call for strawberries, which totally ruins rhubarb pie! Imho.

If I find one, I'll post it and I hope you'll do the same.

Meanwhile, I envy your ability to grow rhubarb. Wish I could!