A few days ago, a TV show was featuring rhubarb on the food segment and a flood of memories came over me like a big warm blanket.
One of the chefs was quite young, (under 40) and unfamiliar with it. The older one was creating new uses for that old standby that resided permanently with the raspberry canes in the kitchen gardens of our grandparents and parents.
The rhubarb I remember grew outside my ‘Farmor’s’ chicken coop.
Sidebar: mini-Swedish lesson. In Swedish, grandparents are easily distinguished from each other by this simple system. “Far” (fahr) is father: “Mor” (moorrr – ALWAYS roll the ors) is mother. So written or spoken ‘Farmor’ means the father’s mother is being referred to; ‘Morfar’ is mother’s father. ‘Farfar’ is father’s father and ‘Mormor’ is mother’s mother. (This applies to uncles and aunts as well, with ‘syster’ and ‘bror’ (sister and brother) combined to designate the maternal or fraternal relative and whether they are male or female; example: ‘morbror’ is mother’s brother.)
Back to the rhubarb. Not a particularly popular fruit anymore, it was looked forward to before because it was the first fresh fruit and a welcome change from shriveling winter apples and oranges. Like a tonic for what ails you. In Swedish fashion we ate it simply stewed with sugar and a little water-like applesauce. For a change it was thickened with a little potato flour and then it was called ‘krem’ (pronounced with rolled ‘r’ and ‘e’ as in Spanish – madre). Both versions were often topped with a little cream, plain or whipped.
Farmor’s rhubarb grew so big that as a five-year-old, I could pick a stalk and carry it like an umbrella. When the chicken coop was cleaned in the fall, the manure was put on the rhubarb ensuring the spring crop. The spring coop-cleaning material was wheel-barrowed into the vegetable garden, primarily an acre or so hand-dug, and planted with the help of one or more of my farbrors. Harvesting the potatoes in the summer and fall produced another favourite from the garden, and cherished quality time with farmor. While the regular-sized potatoes were spread to dry in the sun and then stored in the root cellar for winter use, the little, new potatoes were eaten as soon as possible.
Some of my clearest early memories are of sitting at the kitchen table with farmor, eating those sweet, little potatoes. We each had a plate and a knife and a bowl of fresh butter between us. She showed me how to put a little dab of butter on the knife, then cut into the warm potato, deposit the butter in the middle and popped it quickly into my mouth before the butter fell out. They were like candy! Addictive! And now I can buy a bag of nugget potatoes year-round and enjoy them as I did with farmor, and recall those years of simple childhood shadowing, and learning from farmor as she tended her garden, and flowerbeds and shared her memories with me.
– Submitted by Karin Edberg-Lee