Where I live, we have a community garden project. We’re a very socialist kind of neighbourhood. We have our own daycare/summer camp, our own toy library and clothing exchange, a neighbourhood wide barter system for trading goods and talent, and our own food bank and community kitchen where those of us who have a little more can share with those who have a little less, and nobody has to be embarrassed. The roster of who’s on which side of the equation shifts from year to year. When the community garden started three years ago, it was a natural extension of the programs that we, the residents of my community, had already built for ourselves as local social services have shuttered one after another. Interested residents enter a lottery, and if chosen, have the use of a fenced in raised bed garden for the six months that this part of Canada is capable of producing anything besides traffic accidents and new curse words. Two plots are held back from the lottery, and everyone who ‘won’ a garden plot contributes to the planting and maintenance of these. They supply our community kitchen with fresh produce for half the year. A kitchen where neighbours who need or want, can assemble on any given weeknight to cook and eat together with ingredients provided by the community. No judgement, nobody keeps track of who the leftovers go home with, and we all take turns sharing recipes, so we all learn from each other. Those who don’t cook can chop, prep, or wash dishes, and hopefully learn the skill with exposure. It’s a great system, and I’m really pleased to be part of a community that has elevated itself from ‘bad neighbourhood’ status into the giant, extended family that it is becoming.
I had a garden the first year, but didn’t win one last year. This year, my name was drawn, so once again, I am growing a ‘spaghetti sauce’ garden. Peppers, spinach, onions, zucchini, four kinds of tomatoes and a variety of herbs. This year, however, I inherited a rhubarb with the garden. It wasn’t there when the plot was assigned to me in March, but by the time I was ready to start planting after the last APRIL snowstorm this year, it was already there, huge, scary-looking, and almost ready to pick.
I’d actually never eaten rhubarb. When I was little, the elderly couple next door grew it, quite by accident, and it was a game in spring between the two of them, to see if he could manage to kill it before she was able to harvest it. Even when he succeeded it would be back in a matter of weeks, and this cycle would repeat itself all summer long. I always thought it must be some evil weed eaten only by pickle-faced old Scottish women, who proved their mettle by eating it raw, while everyone in the room winced just watching them and waiting to see which would prove more bitter.
So when I found myself the proud custodian of a ridiculously healthy rhubarb, I had no idea what anybody actually DID with it, besides run it over with a lawn mower at every available opportunity.
Fortunately, there are a lot of people in my orbit whose rhubarb experiences were clearly a lot more positive than mine, and many sent me recipes and links, and I’ve been happily experimenting for weeks, because, as it turns out, unless you rip the whole plant out by the roots, even after you pick it, it just makes MORE rhubarb.
I had no idea, but as it happens, rhubarb is like zucchini. In that the moment you have it, you automatically have way too much of it, and it turns out that everyone in your house thinks they hate it, and you’re forced to resort to leaving baskets of it on the doorsteps of strangers in the middle of the night.
During the first year with the garden, I finally addressed the zucchini issue for my house-mates with great success here. So far, they’re both holding out against rhubarb, but I’ve got my best friend living right behind us, happy to help dispose of surplus jam and pie, and in the process of all this experimenting, have found myself a convert. So while my husband and son are still in the design phase of the flamethrower they’re building to try to eradicate the plant completely, I’ve been baking pies. I’m on my seventh pie now, and the plant is bigger and more robust than when I started.
After trying all kinds of different fillings, pre-cooking, blending with other fruit etc, the winning rhubarb pie recipe is below. As with many of the best recipes I know, it’s dead simple, and requires little very art at all.
Double crust pastry recipe, or a package of store bought.
1 1/3 cups sugar
A teaspoon or so of cinnamon
6 tablespoons of flour
1 beaten egg
A tablespoon or so of coarse sugar
1. Line pie plate with bottom crust (I will use either store bought, or make my own, depending on how I’m feeling, and how much time I have. Don’t judge me.)
2. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 1/3 cups of sugar with 6tbsp of flour and a teaspoon (ish) of cinnamon. Stir until blended
3. Spoon half the mixture over bottom crust
4. Fill with 4 cups (ish) of chopped rhubarb
5. Spoon remaining flour/sugar mix over rhubarb
6. Top crust. Either lattice or well vented.
7. Brush top crust with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar
8. Unless you like cleaning your oven, put the pie on a cookie sheet.
9. Bake on the bottom rack of oven at 450 for 15 min, then turn oven down to 350 for 45 min to an hour. (When it smells like cooked pastry, go look) Let cool on a wire rack. Devour while still warm, and laugh at all the silly people who think they don’t like rhubarb. Repeat ad infinitum, because you never actually run out of rhubarb, and once people find out you like it, you’ll have all the rhubarb you can handle.