Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Photo: CBC Calgary

Pie plant, Dad told us, was the translated Norwegian name. Alchemized by sugar and baking, these tough and sour stalks became rhubarb pie, crisp or crumble.

When Dad brought home a rhubarb plant from a neighbour, I was astonished to see him divide the large taproot with the hand axe, and then plant out the divisions in three deep holes full of fresh soil and compost.

For years it thrived on the south side of the house, and each summer we kids would pick the first fresh sticks, then dip the ends in sugar and eat them raw.

When Dave and I got older, we learned to make biscuit dough and created "rhubarb duff," naming it after the plum duff the sailors were eating in a book we were reading at the time -- Kidnapped.

Rhubarb crisp or "duff " (rhubarb cobbler) is best eaten fresh and hot, and a garnish of vanilla ice cream never hurts. Awhile ago, my green-thumbed friend and neighbour gave me some of her rhubarb crumble. Made from her garden rhubarb, it tasted just like Mom's.

Pinky also gave me a cooking tip. If you boil your rhubarb sauce with a bit of apple juice, it doesn't need as much sugar. She also likes to add orange rind to the crust of her crumble, giving it a je ne sais quois. In my world, a bit of cardamom improves the crumb crust. Thus our traditional family recipe has evolved to include it.

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