Tag Archive | pie

Rhubarb Roots

June 9, 2020

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Rhubarb pie (no strawberries!) baked  by the author for Memorial Day weekend 2020

I love pie. I don’t always love making it, but I love eating it. So what better way to celebrate June 9th than to acknowledge the rhubarb plant and national Strawberry Rhubarb pie day?

 

Rhubarb is an amazing plant. It’s hardy, high in vitamin C, and is touted as a blood pressure reducer.

For centuries it has been recognized for its medicinal purposes and was, during the time of Marco Polo, more expensive than saffron. Historically, its origins can be traced to China. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Chinese call rhubarb “the great yellow” and have used rhubarb root for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It appears in The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic which is thought to have been compiled about 1,800 years ago Though Dioscurides’ description of ρηον or ρά indicates that a medicinal root brought to Greece from beyond the Bosphorus may have been rhubarb, commerce in the drug did not become securely established until Islamic times. During Islamic times, it was imported along the Silk Road, reaching Europe in the 14th century through the ports of Aleppo and Smyrna, where it became known as “Turkish rhubarb”. Later, it also started arriving via the new maritime routes, or overland through Russia. The “Russian rhubarb” was the most valued, probably because of the rhubarb-specific quality control system maintained by the Russian Empire. (snip)

The high price as well as the increasing demand from apothecaries stimulated efforts to cultivate the different species of rhubarb on European soil. Certain species came to be grown in England to produce the roots. The local availability of the plants grown for medicinal purposes, together with the increasing abundance and decreasing price of sugar in the 18th century, galvanized its culinary adoption. Grieve claims a date of 1820 in England. Rhubarb was grown in Scotland from at least 1786, having been introduced to the Botanical Garden in Edinburgh by the traveller Bruce of Kinnaird.

Though it is often asserted that rhubarb first came to the United States in the 1820s, John Bartram was growing medicinal and culinary rhubarbs in Philadelphia from the 1730s, planting seeds sent him by Peter Collinson. From the first, the familiar garden rhubarb was not the only Rheum in American gardens: Thomas Jefferson planted R. undulatum at Monticello in 1809 and 1811, observing that it was “Esculent rhubarb, the leaves excellent as Spinach.”

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The rhubarb plant at our home in Kirkland, 2017

 

Fifteen years ago I enrolled in a class at Bellevue Community College which was touted as one that would explore the various types of articles one could write for publication in magazines. This was, for the most part, before blogs and individual web pages took root.

Each week we were given an assignment to write an article of a specific type such as “How To” or “Humor.” I recall clearly the day I shared my version of a “personal essay” – near the end of the course – and the reaction. When I finished reading my piece aloud, the room was silent; even the instructor did not say anything for several beats. When she did speak she said, “I think this is your strength.”

The development of this blog was the natural result of decades of extrapolating small slices of life and looking for the story gems hidden within. What follows is the article I wrote back in 2004…

Rhubarb Roots

 

The story of that rhubarb plant didn’t stop with its transplant to Kirkland, however. Root balls have been gifted to family and friends whenever requested. In fact when my friend Mary – who grew up in Kansas – heard the story of the rhubarb and its connection to her home state, she asked for a piece of it which we gladly shared. Every so often she will post a picture of the VERY healthy plant on social media or send me a message providing updates as to what delectable delight she has created. (Being that she is one of the best cooks I know, no doubt the end result is fabulous!) Our niece Carolyn – who we gave a hunk of it to back in 2016 and another great cook – also recently posted that she had cooked a pie with the rhubarb stalks along with thanks for our sharing of the plant.

When the hubby and I moved yet again in 2018 there was never any doubt that the rhubarb was coming too. But there was a catch. We were moving to a condo/townhouse and there was no spot for a proper garden. Instead, all the rhubarb moved north to the hubby’s family century old farmhouse and acreage in Blaine to be planted there as a means of keeping it for us and future generations.

Rhubarb in the pot

The rhubarb we transplanted to a pot next to our front walk. It is scheduled for a change of scenery to allow it to grow unfettered by the constraints of its environment.

We did manage to plant one root ball in a pot alongside our front walk at the new place. We soon discovered that our next door neighbor, Bob, is a plant guy. I mean a real plant guy in that he has spent his career working with plants and the development of new vegetable varietals. Following his lead of finding space for fruits and vegetables in some of the common spaces, a second section of our rhubarb was recently repatriated and is now taking root at the edge of the back fence. Of course Bob, would like his own rhubarb also, a request which will soon be obliged.

And so it goes… another leg in the journey for my rhubarb roots. I’m pretty sure I have just enough to make another pie.

A couple of links for your edification:

https://nationaldaycalendar.com/days-2/national-strawberry-rhubarb-pie-day-june-9/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhubarb

 

 

… Blackberry Pie

Rubus Armeniacus

August 28, 2018

For those of us who love the results, putting up with nasty scratches and purple fingers is but a small price to pay for the culinary delights one experiences.

And for those who have ever found this invader in their yard or garden there are mixed emotions surrounding it.

I am talking of probably the most ubiquitous plant of the Pacific Northwest, the Rubus Armeniacus. More commonly known as the Himalayan Blackberry.himalayan blackberry

Like a number of other things, the Himalayan was a transplant to the area. The species originated in Armenia and Northern Iran. And we can thank – or blame – famed horticulturist Luther Burbank for its introduction to the PNW.

It all began in 1901 when 10 acres of land was purchased for the Boys Parental School on the north end of Mercer Island. The school focused on providing support for boys who needed extra structure in their lives. According to the information on Luther Burbank Park:

“The name of the Boys Parental School was changed to Luther Burbank School in 1931. Luther Burbank Park is named after the famous horticulturist born March 7, 1849 in Massachusetts. Burbank pioneered the hybridization of plans and ‘grafting’ trees, and is credited with creating the baking potato and many flowers. He also created the Himalaya blackberry – loved by some for its luscious fruit, despised by others for its invasiveness. Ironically, many of Luther Burbank Park’s delicate native vegetation are choked with Himalaya blackberry bushes. Burbank passed away in 1926. The State of Washington took over in 1957, and moved the school operations to Echo Glen near Preston in 1966.”

While I would disagree that Burbank ‘created’ the Himalayan Blackberry, it was his fault that the plant got a foothold here.

Its success, in a little over 100 years, is impressive. From Mercer Island it spread everywhere on the west side of the Cascades, often choking out its native counterpart, the Pacific Blackberry.

I found this information on the Himalayan, from the Infallible Wikipedia, especially telling:

“The species was introduced to Europe in 1835 and to Australia and North America in 1885. It was valued for its fruit, similar to that of common blackberries (Rubus fruticosus and allies) but larger and sweeter, making it a more attractive species for both domestic and commercial fruit production. The cultivars ‘Himalayan Giant’ and ‘Theodore Reimers’ are particularly commonly planted.

Rubus armeniacus soon escaped from cultivation and has become an invasive species in most of the temperate world. Because it is so hard to contain, it quickly got out of control, with birds and other animals eating the fruit and then spreading the seeds.”

While I don’t recall ever dealing with blackberry plants in Yakima, my first memory of the plant was as a young teen while on vacation with my parents and sister to the Long Beach peninsula. My mother organized an outing to go pick berries which were found in abundance along the roads. We were collecting berries and, apparently, the lady whose property on which were picking took exception. She sicced her dogs on us! No one got bit but we were more careful about where we picked after that.

I learned to make blackberry pie the year after I was first married. Since my hubby’s birthday is the third week of August, it always coincides with blackberry harvest. And his favorite type of pie is blackberry. We bought our first house in West Seattle and the blackberries were but one thing out of control at that property and in the alley behind it.

But we pruned them back and let them grow and I picked enough for the fresh pies as well as enough to freeze and then bag for future use, something I continue to do, always finding a patch near where we live.

It was in February – the second year in West Seattle – that I decided to make a blackberry pie from some of the frozen berries. Being a CPA, my hubby was in the midst of tax season and had to work most Saturdays. To reward him I spent a fair portion of the day cooking homemade lasagna and the pie.

Dinner – my brother was there that night too – was a hit. The lasagna was delicious, the garlic French bread savory, and the green salad with fresh tomatoes and green onions a delight.

And then it was time for the Piece de Resistance – the pie – I proudly carried it to the dining room where the two guys oohed and aahed over it. I cut three large wedges, served up with vanilla ice cream, and handed each their piece.

Yummy!

Before taking a bite of the pie, I looked over at my brother who was just kinda pushing his piece around on his plate and not eating. Weird. So I sliced off a forkful of mine and popped it in my mouth. It was awful. I glanced down to the end of the table and my husband’s face told the story. His lips were pursed in a tight ‘o’ formation and his head was pulled back in surprise, his eyes wide.

I started to laugh… and could not stop. It was one of a half dozen times in my life where I laughed until I cried. Soon the guys were laughing too, all of us wiping the tears from our cheeks.

When the hilarity died down, I did what any self-respecting cook would do. I retrieved the sugar bowl from the kitchen and we passed it around, lifting the crust and sprinkling generous amounts on the cooked berries.

I pieced together what, exactly, had occurred. When I pulled the berries from the freezer and put them in a bowl to thaw there was an excess of liquid. Seeing the berries look like they should for pie filling, I simply forgot to add the sweetener.

C&HSugar. Always remember to put sugar in your pies. And remember to be careful where you go to pick your berries. Mom said.

A couple links for your education:

http://www.mercergov.org/Page.asp?NavID=1175

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubus_armeniacus