My parents have always had a rhubarb plant in the backyard; I think the plant originated with my grandparents, but I can’t be sure. I like the idea that it might have, but it could just as easily have come from Art Knapp’s Plantland, a nursery we’d sometimes go to where you could ride in golf carts to pick up infant cherry trees and the stubby shrubs that divided every suburban home from the one beside it.
We always had rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb and dumplings, and, if we were lucky, rhubarb sauce, which was best over vanilla ice cream, but also worked pretty well as a pancake topping.
I don’t know why we had rhubarb; it’s not an easy fruit to feed to kids, and yet I recall eating it from the beginning, or as close to the beginning as I’m able to remember. It’s sour and stringy, and some years are worse than others, but every spring it turned up in my mom’s pots and pie plates, sweetened with white sugar and apples, and sometimes with strawberries. It didn’t matter if the rhubarb wasn’t good that year – Mom just added more sugar. Maybe that’s what I saw in it?
There’s less rhubarb in my life now, as I can’t just pop into the back yard and pull a few stalks out of the garden as I need them, though I did scope out my mother-in-law’s plant on the weekend with moochy intent – it wasn’t ready. Now if I want rhubarb, I need to pay for it. Fortunately, they had it at the farmer’s market this past weekend. I didn’t buy quite enough for pie or cobbler or crisp, but I did grab enough to stew into sauce; this one is a little sweet, a little savoury, and great with rich, fatty Greek yogurt and a few flecks of black pepper and bee pollen, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The rosemary is what makes this; a little goes a long way, and the end result tastes the way spring feels, especially those first few warm rays of morning sunlight through your kitchen window after it’s rained for weeks and weeks.
(Makes about 2 cups.)
- 1 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 1/2 cup honey*
- 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
In a covered pot over medium-low heat, simmer rhubarb and honey for ten minutes, or until rhubarb has expelled most of its liquid.
Remove lid, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until sauce has thickened to the consistency you desire; I like a slightly chunky sauce.
Add rosemary and pepper, and simmer for a minute or two, and then spoon it into a jar and use as needed. Keeps for about a week in the fridge; if you end up making extra, it’s wonderful baked into muffins instead of applesauce.
*You may have to sweeten this to taste, depending on the rhubarb you get. Taste as you go, but keep in mind you may need up to 2/3 cup of sweetener per pound of rhubarb and this will vary from plant to plant and year to year.