When I started this blog a year ago, I contemplated the names I would call it. There were many names that came to mind and The Rhubarb Queen was at the top of the list. I think both The Lemon Bar Queen and The Rhubarb Queen are accurate in describing my Mom. She is the best baker I know.
Rhubarb has been a part of our household for as long as I can remember. Growing up on our farm, we had ten huge rhubarb plants that my Mom used every spring. She taught me how to cut the stalks, reminding me not to take the small ones or to leave the giant, woody ones. She also used the leaves as compost in our garden. I remember my Dad putting coffee grounds on the base of the plant and the lush green plants grew enormous. It seems like yesterday that she would put on her old yellow shorts (that she sewed herself), her top with the sleeves cut off and a scarf pulling her hair back. Her legs always with a farmers tan.
Just the smell of rhubarb brings me back to the day in our kitchen, something always brewing in the black kettle. She loved to cut up rhubarb for jam, muffins, torte, bread, sauce and our favorite, pie. It was always a treat to have vanilla ice cream with warm rhubarb sauce steaming over the top. My love affair with this strange plant started young.
When my parents moved from the farm and bought a house in town, along came the rhubarb. They transplanted five plants on the side of the house and the canning and baking continued. I remember in college, getting an emergency call from my Mom that someone had dug up one of their beloved rhubarb plants. They woke up to work in our garden and someone dug up the very middle plant, leaving a huge whole. I think my parents were devastated and horrified. I remember my Dad stating that all the person needed to do was ask and he would have gladly given that person some rhubarb. When I drove up in their driveway, sure enough, there was the missing plant. The plant was never replaced and became somewhat of a joke. Who took the Lundell rhubarb plant?
Fast forward twenty five years and to my Mom…
I’ve shared that she isn’t eating that much since returning from the hospital. Just eating enough to keep a bird alive. I have tried to get her to eat more. Snicker’s, cheeseburger with fried onions, cashews, Snickers Blizzard and cookies. She would only take bites and even refused her beloved coffee. I am frustrated and so is she. She doesn’t understand why it is so important that she eats. Her favorite phrase is repeated over and over…”I want to die!”
I decided to buy some rhubarb at Cub last week and I skim her well worn cookbook, The Fron Cookbook. There is a page dog-eared and I turn it to page 198 and note Rhubarb Dessert by Mrs. Russell Lundell, AKA, my Mom. So I decide to make her dessert. The whole house fills with the lush smell of cooking rhubarb and I am so excited to bring her a piece. On a side note, my ten year old is limited to how much she eats because last year she ate so much that she vomited in the middle of the night. Even as a nurse, that was some awful stuff, trust me.
Last week, I brought over her dessert. She is sitting in their parlor area and she smiled and waves at me. I have brought her a very special gift hoping that this will work. I told her I would get her some coffee and we could share a piece. I see a small glimmer in her eye and she asks for a fork. This is a good sign. She grabs the fork and takes a small bite and a sip of coffee. She looks up at me and I can tell she likes it. Bite after bite she finishes the whole piece. She even drinks a cup of coffee. I am beyond thrilled and feeling slightly victorious. I even bribed her to get her hair done with another piece of dessert. For some reason, she has been annoyed with getting her hair done, a new behavior that I am unsure of. I even shared some with the staff , who loved Mom’s recipe.
So for the past week, I have been researching rhubarb recipes. My friend Dawn made the best scones called Naughty Rhubarb Scones so Sophia and I made them over this weekend. I brought them to Mom’s yesterday and she thought they were strange but ate the whole thing. Success, yet again.
Today, I was up early at five am, thanks to our dog Barley. Not being able to get back to sleep, I made Mom’s dessert today and brought some to school for the staff. I am reminded that I most likely did the same thing as Mom did, all those long years ago. She would get up early to bake. I am sure it was her time that we were sleeping, she was alone and enjoying what she loved to do the most, bake. And could she ever bake. My next project will be rhubarb crisp with some vanilla ice cream. I am hoping she will respond as she has done with my last experiment.
Rhubarb…who knew that this magical plant would help my Mom at this stage in her life. As a disclaimer, I will never be the cook that my mother was. It was her pride and joy and I can think of a hundred things I would rather do. But for her, I can attempt this one time a week and Sophia has enjoyed it also, just like I did as a child. For those of you that want her recipe:
1 Cup of Flour
2 T Sugar
1/2 C Butter
1/4 Nuts (I don’t use them, but you can)
Mix and press in 8″x8″ pan. Bake 15-20 minutes at 325 degrees.
2 1/2 Cups of Rhubarb-Cut up
3 Egg Yolks
1 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Cream or evaporated Milk
2 T Flour
Pour over crust and bake 40 minutes at 325 degrees. Beat 3 egg whites-add 6 T Sugar. Pour over baked rhubarb mixture and bake until brown.
Mrs. Russell Lundell