Friday, July 5, 2013

CSA Cooking:Rhubarb Pie for the Fourth of July

"As American as apple pie" might as well be "as American as rhubarb pie," since both the apple and the rhubarb originated east of Europe and both were brought to America and then spread westward as pioneers pushed the frontier across the continent.  In fact, in The First Four Years Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to the rhubarb by the then-colloquial name of "pie-plant," which says much for the tart stalk's perception on the American frontier!  While the rhubarb never had the icon of Johnny Appleseed to grow its fame, it does have the distinction of being legislated into a fruit.  Though by a botanical definition the rhubarb classifies as a vegetable, in 1947 a New York State court declared the stalk a fruit on the basis of its common usage as fruit.  Today, for the purposes of food regulations and import/export duties and tariffs, rhubarb is a fruit.

Rhubarb pie is one of my very favorite pies in the world (and thats saying alot, coming from me!).  We've decided that the rhubarb bed will be along 2/3rds of the front of the house: I hope to get the baby plants in the ground before the end of the summer.  And next year, plant well-started strong sunflowers behind the row of rhubarb, right up against the house.

 There's been stalks of rhubarb in the last two CSA shares, so I figured I'd bring a pie to the extended-family 4th o'July gathering.  Cousins are in town from Minnesota!  Newly engaged cousins at that! (extra super bonus points for deciding to propose on a mountain in Alaska, cousin-in-law!)

.... and then between this and that, sleeping in, and cuddling huskies, I didn't make the pie.  Maybe I'll make it tonight, while the man is out of town, playing a concert gig?  Then I can eat the whole thing allll by myself....

So there's no picture of a scrumptious pie, but I've still got more information than you never knew you didn't want to know aout rhubarb!

rhubarb (n.)
late 14c., from Old French rubarbe, from Medieval Latin rheubarbarum, from Greek rha barbaron "foreign rhubarb," from rha "rhubarb" (associated with Rha, ancient Scythian name of the River Volga [along the banks of which rhubarb grew wild per wikipedia]) + barbaron, neuter of barbaros "foreign."

Grown in China and Tibet, it was imported into ancient Europe by way of Russia. Spelling altered in Medieval Latin by association with rheum. European native species so called from 1640s
. (etymonline)
**Fascinating, is it not?

The import of Rhubarb into Europe began as early as the 1300's, but was used primarily medicinally until the widespread availability of sugar in the 1700's.   

"Rhubarb has been used for medical purposes by the Chinese for thousands of years,[2] and appears in The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic, which legend attributes to the mythical Shen Nung, the Yan Emperor, but is thought to have been compiled about 2700 years ago" (wiki!)

** The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic.  The title alone holds so much promise, and the books legendary attribution only increases my desire to read it!  Just think what a cultural shift it would encompass if we modern westerners retained a sense of farming as an active engagement with the divine!

"The expense of transportation across Asia caused rhubarb to be highly expensive in medieval Europe, where it was several times the price of other valuable herbs and spices such as cinnamon, opium and saffron. The merchant explorer Marco Polo was therefore much interested to find the plant being grown and harvested in the mountains of Tangut province. A measure of the value set upon rhubarb can be gotten from Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo's report of his embassy in 1403-05 to Timur in Samarkand: "The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb..."." (thank you wikipedia for your information!)

**I find this both fascinating and also slightly hilarious, since the seeds of the rhubarb plant have been a peasant survival food staple in Russia for centuries.

And Finally, the theatre geek in me wants you to know that "In British theatre and early radio drama, the words "rhubarb rhubarb" were repeated for the effect of unintelligible conversation on the background.  This usage lent its title to the 1969 film Rhubarb and its 1980 remake Rhubarb Rhubarb" (wiki!)


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