I think I've finally got it. How to grow rhubarb at this little place here, that is. I used to have tons (probably literally) of rhubarb at the place we owned before building this little place here. At the old place, rhubarb grew like a weed. I didn't have to do anything to it, it just grew. And grew. And grew. My kids have memories of skirts made out of rhubarb leaves, just two leaves to cover an 8 year old child, the leaves were so big. Sunhats made of rhubarb leaves. Giant fans made of rhubarb stalks (before I cut them into pie) and rhubarb leaves. Dresses for toddlers made of rhubarb leaves. A small child could crawl under the rhubarb and hide quite well during a game of hide and seek, the plants were so large and abundant. One summer I harvested, cut, and froze fifty pounds of rhubarb. Yes, FIFTY pounds!! And that was for future use, that didn't count what we ate fresh that year in the form of rhubarb pie, rhubarb bread, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb bars, rhubarb muffins, strawberry-rhubarb coffee cake, rhubarb sauce. . . My mouth waters with the memory of all the tasty ways to serve rhubarb.
Then we moved to this little place here, which before we bought it was just a worn-out farm field (clay, of course) and ten acres of cut-over trees, most of which were less than twenty years old. Before moving that fall, I dug up some of my vigorous abundant rhubarb from the old place, and transplanted it to this little place here.
It died. All dozen rhubarb plants. Three made it through the winter to send up weak little leaves in the spring, but even they died before summer arrived. My tasty, lovely, heirloom rhubarb, gone.
Turns out rhubarb loved the sandy acidic soil of the old place. Rhubarb did not at all like the heavy clay and farmed to non-nutrition soil of this little place here.
I bought some rhubarb roots (bought--oh, it killed me, I wanted my old fashioned rhubarb) and tried again a few years later, planting them in an area I had added composted horse manure to. They came up, they struggled, they died.
I tried again, a few years later, buying more roots and planting them in one of the terraced beds behind the house. Three planted, one came up. I nursed it, feeding it compost and mulching it well over the winter. It came up again, and got straggly little stalks skinnier than a pencil. Not enough to make anything out of even if I did dare to harvest it, which I didn't for fear I would weaken the plant to the point of death.
I babied that plant. I watered, I mulched, I fertilized. It came back the third year. Hooray, I must be on the right track!
I read about rhubarb. The light bulb went off above my head. Rhubarb liked loose soil, like the sand at the old place. Okay, I would work to amend the soil even more, dumping on and working in lots of aged composted manure and sawdust bedding. Rhubarb liked acidic soil, like what was found under the arborvitae and pines at the old place, where the rhubarb had thrived. I told DH to stop throwing away his coffee grounds, and began feeding them to my lone rhubarb plant. It grew better the next year. Still not enough that I dared to harvest it, but it looked healthier.
Encouraged, last year I planted another rhubarb root. This spring, the older one is lush, well, at least compared to what I've seen so far at this little place here. Not yet half the size of a two-year-old rhubarb at the old place, but big enough that I was able to make this last week:
The first rhubarb pie I have made from rhubarb grown at this little place here. It is a victory, it is symbolic (never give up!), it is historical, it was delicious!
The second rhubarb root is growing well too. I think I've finally figured out how to grow it in less than optimal conditions. It just takes some effort.
Now I can't wait for the strawberries to be ripe in June so I can make a strawberry rhubarb coffee cake. It's to die for, and I haven't had one in about nine years.
Strawberry Rhubarb Coffee Cake
3 cups rhubarb (fresh or frozen) sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 quart fresh strawberries, mashed
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or milk soured w/1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
Make the filling: in a large saucepan, combine rhubarb, strawberries and lemon juice. Cook, covered, over medium heat about 5 min. Then add the sugar and cornstarch, stirring well into the fruit mixture in pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside while making cake.
Make the cake: in a large bowl, combine dry ingredients for cake. Cut in butter pieces until mixture is crumbly. Beat together the buttermilk (or sour milk), eggs, and vanilla; stir into the crumb mixture.
In a greased 9" x 13" baking dish, spread half of the cake batter. On top of that, carefully spread the filling. Drop remaining batter by tablespoonfuls over the filling.
Make topping: melt butter in smallish (or medium) saucepan over low heat. Once melted, remove from heat and stir in flour and sugar until mixture forms crumbs. Sprinkle over batter in baking dish.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes. Cool in pan, cut into squares and serve.
You may want to put a cookie sheet or some foil on bottom rack of oven to catch any juicy spills from coffee cake as it is baking.