'Way down the bottom of the beautiful, elegant English garden that my mother has tended for nearly forty years, there is a gorgeous clump of green, elephant ear-like leaves. They have grown down there for as long as I can remember. The roots must grow down deeper than even I can imagine, for the plant has survived horrific winters, and the droughts of countless scorching summers. It has been deftly "worked around", as my parents have crafted their landscaping plans, but not in a very deliberate way... It used to stretch out behind the old green sandbox that my father built and dutifully filled every spring. The ruddy pink stalks survived being trodden on by three pairs of little feet, and slonked sideways as we hauled the heavy plywood cover off of our play area (which was necessary to deter the neighbourhood cats from turning it into their Public Bathroom). After the old sandbox was hauled away, the plant later survived many garden "renovations", including the construction of a deluxe new two-story garage and shed. The construction caused an enormous mess, and just about razed that corner of the garden to the ground, but the following year... amidst all the brand-new perennials and shrubs... those dark-green leaves sprouted again once more. I swear to God, that rhubarb plant is as hardier than anything else that grows on that blessed patch of land-- and it has been there longer than any of the rest of us. No doubt, it could tell us some stories.
And some pretty "fruity" stories those would likely be, too, because as long as I can remember, my mother has included a rawther unique expression in her extensive vocabulary... and it is one that I now find popping out of my OWN mouth, now that I've got three children of my own. That expression is:
"Screaming off into the rhubarb patch."
As in, "YOU KIDS ARE ENOUGH TO MAKE ME WANT TO GO SCREAMING OFF INTO THE RHUBARB PATCH!"
Or, as a slight variation, "ARE YOU TRYING TO SEND ME SCREAMING OFF INTO THE RHUBARB PATCH??"
The threat version: "IF YOU DON'T STOP IT RIGHT THIS INSTANT, I'M GOING TO..."
You get the idea.
As children, my brother, sister and I gathered that the inference was: you have to be crazy (and preferably, driven there by your family) to like rhubarb.
So, after the kind of week I've had around here, it seemed only natural that I should happen across a gigantic display of rhubarb stalks at our little grocery store.
Rhubarb!! In May!! Clearly, SOMEBODY'S been looking over my shoulder...
I brought it home, chopped it up, and concocted this wonderful pudding... the scent and taste of which takes me RIGHT back to being about seven or eight years old, and sitting up to dinner in the old kitchen in Stratford. My brother, sister and I kept up an under-the-table war, wherein the challenge was to deliver furious attacks of deadly kicks-in-the-shins. Even more challenging was to keep angelic expressions on our faces, and to continue shovelling food into our mouths all the while, thus "fooling" our mother and father, who had high regard for table manners and other such civilized behavior. Needless to say, we seldom succeeded, and thus, my mother would threaten to go "screaming off into the rhubarb"... even though our delicious dessert was proof enough that she was Already There.
And now, I'm there, too... But boy, does it taste good.
Regina Rhubarb Pudding
Mix together in the bottom of a greased casserole dish:
4 1/2 c rhubarb chunks
1 c granulated sugar
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together:
1 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
In a small bowl, blend together:
2 tbsp softened butter
2 tbsp granulated sugar
Gradually add the butter-and-sugar mixture to the dry mixture, alternating with 1/4 to 1/2 c cold water. Mix everything together until you have achieved a soft dough. Spoon the dough over the rhubarb-and-sugar in the casserole dish.
Bake at 350 degrees, for about 40 or 50 minutes, until the "cake" on the top is done (test it with a toothpick to make sure). Sprinkle the top with about 1 tbsp icing sugar.
Serves two dignified adults, and three bratty children.
Regina is the capital of the great province of Saskatchewan... and "just a little ways away" from the tiny prairie town where my mother was raised.
An early Happy Mother's Day to my mother... whose tremendous love for us, and strength-of-character kept her from going "screaming off" and just staying down there in the rhubarb patch... Because I now know what it feels like to be sorely tempted.