I’m having a very particular conversation with my garden this year.
If I had known who I would be 10 years after moving into my house, if I had known what I would love and what I would want, I might have listened to friends and experts and every article in Mother Earth News and I would have done it right from the start. I would have built strong raised beds and a good fence and taken a few classes in soil science and steered the garden away from the wilderness of pine and weeds and thistle that lines my yard.
Instead, right at the beginning, I improvised. I dug a tiny square already framed by thistle and bittersweet. I added a few bags of compost and I planted some kale.
This tendency of mine to jump in small, to say I’ll figure out the details later, to not do something the right way right off the bat, affects more than just my garden. And even now, I’m not sure if it’s a strength or a weakness. I don’t know if I should try to be better, or if I should credit my successes to all the times I’ve jumped into something without any idea of how I would figure it out.
I have yet to do my annual spring kick-off in the garden. The weeds are now trees and shrubs, gaining ground every day. I have a summer ahead of Saturday shifts at the farmers market and Tuesday CSA pickups, so I’m lucky enough to have access to good vegetables planted by other people. Depending on the day I feel guilty or cocky and sure, but in both cases I say I’m giving the garden (and myself) a rest. I’m liking it out there anyway, sitting on the porch and watching the leaves grow. That’s always been my goal, so in some way I suppose this year is as much as a success as any so far.
Of course the perennials are back, and I’m especially happy for their reassurance that this is just one year among what I hope will be many. Sometimes these days I even appreciate the delicate flowers and hearty tenacity of the the weeds. Between the asparagus and the Jerusalem artichokes and the wild tangled herbs there’s enough structure so it almost looks like I’ve planted. Most of all, the rhubarb is pumping. It looks like an overgrown flower, and it just keeps getting bigger.
If you don’t love rhubarb, there are plenty of recipes out there for you. You can cover up the rhubarb with strawberries, or make toaster pastries or bitters or soda or tarts. If, however, you love the tart and tough fiber of it, the apocolyptical when-the-world-ends-there-will-be-only-cockroaches-and-rhubarb heartiness, the sometimes pink and sometimes green slightly dangerous feeling of eating a stalk with a poisonous leaf, and most of all the sour fruity flavor of rhubarb, then this is your recipe.
Years ago, Molly Wizenberg wrote about roasting rhubarb. I filed the idea away, mostly just hanging on to the poetry of the words “roasted rhubarb,” and what I imagined would happen, which I hoped was some sort of caramel sugared celery mystery effect. So, of course without actually going back to Molly’s original post, I roasted rhubarb like I would any other vegetable: on a baking sheet in a hot oven. It puffed up like a parachute and then collapsed and melted. It was no loss, just the base of an okay cake that I served to my friend Jess (trying not to apologize, but she graciously ate it).
Finally I went back to Molly’s post and found that she had roasted her rhubarb in wine. Now that is a much better idea.
She did white wine and vanilla, and of course that’s pretty wonderful. She’d based it on a Canal House recipe with red wine, and she’d also made it with water, so it seems this could be a base for whatever you want to do. I wanted more pink, pink, pink, so here we have rosé and ginger. (Upon searching back in this site, it seems I have a thing for rhubarb and ginger: here and here.) The result of the method is tender but not at all mushy rhubarb, sweetish, each stalk holding it’s own and actually giving you something to bite into. The liquid–part wine, part sugar, and part rhubarb juice is about as pink as it gets and very gingery. You could just eat this plain (chilled, as Molly recommends), but I brought it to brunch at a friend’s with homemade yogurt and granola and that was so good. Ice cream, whipped cream–you get the idea. I’d imagine this lasts well in the fridge too, in case your rhubarb is also pumping and you want to make something you could keep around for a little while.
Braised Rhubarb with Rosé and Ginger
2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed into 2 to 3-inch lengths
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup dry rosé
3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Stir together the rhubarb, sugar, wine, and ginger in a wide, oven safe skillet or Dutch oven. Bake uncovered, stirring a few times, until the rhubarb is tender but not yet mushy, 30 to 40 minutes (depending on the thickness of your rhubarb). Serve warm or cold or somewhere in between.