When my grandmother was 90, I moved St. Paul, MN where my grandmother lived. I had the pleasure of getting to know her better during her final decade. She had been an avid gardener, growing vegetables for the table, and priding herself on her gorgeous backyard flowers. Her garden was pretty neglected by the time I moved to town, as her eyesight was not good and she didn’t get around quite as easily. I did what I could to tame the garden. My husband built a redwood trellis for her clematis, a variety with small white flowers that she called “Little Fairy”. I thinned out some of the garden phlox so the peonies could thrive and you could once again see the orange-red oriental poppies. I dug the forget-me nots out of the lawn and made a small bed of those. I planted a small bed with pansies and made sure that her flower box always had impatiens (must be pink!) and moneywort trailing over the side. Her roses had reverted to the hardy rootstock, and were very thorny, but with lovely single flowers.
For decades, the trash can was just that, a place for trash. Garbage (food waste) was buried in the garden. Her soil was so black and rich! Every fall, I had to dig a 4′ x 4′ hole to bury her leaves, as she couldn’t bear the thought of wasting all that nitrogen. She always said “Those leaves are pure nitrogen!” She was also very opinionated as to what various plants are called. For example, the weed that has scalloped leaves and purple flowers and grows along the ground is “creeping Jenny”, not creeping charlie, which is a houseplant with scalloped leaves and white flowers. Moneywort is definitely not creeping Jenny or Charlie. If I hear anyone call a plant by a name that my grandmother had decreed was not the correct name, I can hear her saying in my ear that
My grandma was partial to white flowers, and disliked zinnias because she felt they were too gaudy. It was difficult to thin her phlox becaus she wanted me to make sure not to pull any of the white ones. I love a riot of color, so I cannot agree with her on the zinnia question, but her garden did not have them. She did not grow vegetables any longer, save her rhubarb, which was probably the same one she had had for 60 years. She would say to me when I would come over “Honey, can you go out there and bring me some rhubarb? I want to make the sauce”. So, I was very excited to have my own rhubarb, when I bought my house in 2017. I chose Canada Red, and I waited that first year, watching it grow and not taking any stalks in order to let the root system get strong. I give it its own bag of manure every spring and it is a monster! I could stitch together two leaves and have a skirt! I use the leaves as a weed suppressant, laying them down on an area where nothing is planted.
This morning, I made the sauce, which is the easiest way to enjoy rhubarb. Cut the rhubarb into 1/2″ pieces, add sugar to taste and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes. If the rhubarb is not tender, cook another minute or two. You can add a small amount of orange juice to the pot, or orange zest. Cinnamon is nice, but go easy on it. You can use honey, sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup. This morning, I made mine a little sweeter than usual, because I plan to eat it with a fairly tart plain yogurt. I used 1/4 C white sugar for about a pound of rhubarb. Added another tablespoon. I wanted it a little sweeter still to contrast with the yogurt, so to my dish of sauce, I stirred in a teaspoon of honey before I topped the warm sauce with cold yogurt. Love it! It is good in oatmeal too, and frankly, that oatmeal in my cupboard can be used to make a nice rhubarb crisp! Rhubarb pie is amazing , with or without the strawberries, but my man is a blueberry pie man, and I will not make a pie that only I will eat – I don’t need the calories!
When I eat rhubarb sauce, I always think of my grandmother and my mother. Both loved rhubarb sauce, which I think would lend itself well to a sauce to serve with grilled meat, if you keep it on the more tart side and add some spices. Every summer, I would photograph my grandmother standing in her garden, surrounded by flowers. I enlarged the best one and framed it as a birthday gift. I miss my grandmother. She was born in 1895 and died in 1995. She had so many stories! And her basement was like a time machine, the further you went in, the older things were, until at the very back, you would find her diploma to teach at the county normal school- she lied about her age and wore her hair up for the interview because she thought it made her look older. Of course, as was common in her era, she turned to keeping house and raising children once married.