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Viewpoint: What to do with all that rhubarb?

My mother loved rhubarb. As I was cutting off the leaves of some freshly picked rhubarb -- a gift from daughter Laura's landlady -- I closed my eyes. I was back in mom's kitchen learning how to chop up rhubarb.

When chopping up the stalks to make rhubarb crunch, I noted the sound as the knife sliced through. There's no other way to get that sound.

Mom made strawberry rhubarb pie, but her favorite was rhubarb sauce.

For sauce, chopped rhubarb is heated with very little water and sugar to taste until it's soft.

My mom kept it in a tall jar in the refrigerator.

It was served for breakfast in sauce dishes beside bowls of cereal, but mostly I remember having it for dessert. Back when people always kept cream on hand, she poured cream into the rhubarb sauce and I mixed it in making circles with a spoon.

I made some sauce this past weekend with the rhubarb that didn't end up in the crunch, and it was as delicious as I remembered.

When my parents moved to Mississippi in the early '70s, my mother potted her rhubarb and took it with her. "I practically watched it disappear into the ground," she told me. Because of the dirt and climate, her Minnesota plant died.

Her love for living near the Gulf Coast, however, made her move on. "We have plants around our house that we could only grow indoors in Minnesota," she said.

Some interesting facts about rhubarb include that the leaves are toxic so make sure children and pets don't have access.

Botanically, it's a vegetable. However, a New York court, in 1947, ruled that since it's used as a fruit in the United States, it's a fruit.

It first came to the United States in the 1820s, but has been grown for centuries in China and along the Volga River in Russia.

It's a strong laxative, so keep that in mind.

It freezes well and does not have to be cooked beforehand.

Rhubarb lovers can attend the annual Rhubarb Festival, which recently took place in Lanesboro, Minn.

I planted two rhubarb plants last year, but they are too small to pick this year.

Rhubarb Crunch:

One cup brown sugar (packed down)

Three-fourths cup oatmeal (unflavored)

One cup all-purpose flour

One teaspoon cinnamon

One-half cup butter or margarine

Dash of salt

Mix together with your fingers until crumbly.

Press three-fourths of the mixture into the bottom of a 13-by-9 inch cake pan.

Cover with two or more cups of freshly chopped rhubarb.

Bring to a boil to thicken:

One cup of white sugar

One tablespoon of cornstarch mixed in one cup of cold water

Red food coloring is optional.

Pour over rhubarb.

Sprinkle on remaining crunch.

Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

Serve immediately with ice cream, whipped cream or cream and store at room temperature. Covering it or microwaving makes the crunch soggy.

Friend Ruth would add more cinnamon to the recipe, but she never gets too much cinnamon.

Judy Spooner if a staff writer for the Bulletin.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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