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Rhubarb: Dessert From the Farm

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To try this dish of baked rhubarb, berries, and créme fraîche, click here.

As Austin becomes more cosmopolitan, our population includes many folks from "up north." Yankees, we fondly call them. As they come to our farm stand, some will ask if we can grow the things down here they cherish in the latitudes of long-daylight summers and cooler nights. Rhubarb, for instance, which is a perennial there.

For quite a few years, I've been growing parsnips for the Irish and daikon radishes for the macrobiotics and Asians, so, I thought, well "the wahr" was over long ago. Maybe it's time to do something agriculturally nice for the recent transplants--besides tobacco, I mean.

Tobacco did grow on our farm in the mid-1800's, as the pioneers immigrated from North Carolina. I bet, however, that it wasn't too successful a crop, as while we have a lot of humidity and heat, Central Texas is not the Deep South. Daring as they were to move here, I doubt the pioneers grew rhubarb. They'd likely never heard of it.

Well, Texans though we are, we've heard of it, and we like a challenge, so four years ago we grew rhubarb from seed and planted the resulting transplants in a timorous single bed. To see if it would work, you understand. We generally do not jump into volume unless we find out that the crop will grow well and that there will be a market for it. Our five-acre farm is too tiny for giant experiments.

This first tentative trial did work, and we were surprised that even native Texans scooped the blushing red/green stalks off our market table, enchanted to try the pie they'd read about: strawberry/rhubarb.

Why would they want to ruin a good strawberry pie, I wondered? Strawberries and rhubarb do reach harvest stage at the same time, April, but gee, keep strawberries out of anything except smoothies, fresh cream or ice cream!

Bravely, I cooked up a rhubarb "pudding," as I'd seen cookbook author Deborah Madison do in a cooking class in which I explained how to grow the plant and she cooked it. I substituted honey in my endeavor, as we don't use white sugar, except for the farm stand coffee bar. The resulting greenish sludge was not wildly favored by any of us, but we tried to like it. Perhaps we should have added some delicious strawberries?

This year, the little November-planted rhubarbs struggled all winter without any rain, but finally in the last couple of months we've had about six inches, and the leaves are now bigger than a tractor seat and the green stalks have a blushing red tint at the base. They'll be ready for the market tables this week! Along with, sigh, strawberries.

By summer, however, whatever spindly stalks remain after harvest will melt down in our heat. They are not perennials down here, but next September, we will seed out plants again. By April, the Yanks will buy strawberries and rhubarb and enjoy the nostalgia of the combination.

Recipe: Rhubarb With Berries and Candied Ginger

Presented by

Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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