Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Friday, August 2, 2013

Rhubarb

It came as a question on a “Test for people who know everything” quiz.  The question?  “Only two vegetables are able to reproduce year to year without being planted.  What are they?”  I knew the answer for one was asparagus, since there are asparagus fields in my Southern California neighborhood.  But the other?  Not a clue.

Turns out the correct answer was Rhubarb, my ignorance of which may have come from the fact that I think of it as a fruit.  Turns out that it was classified as a vegetable until 1947 and remains a vegetable in much of the world, but became a fruit in this country because fruits have a different tax rate than vegetables and it is generally or at least often teamed with fruits such as strawberries.

When I grew up in Iowa we used to find wild rhubarb in the spring.  Such remains the case in my sister-in-law’s part of Wisconsin where she finds it in abundance as she walks her dog.  She gathers it up and cooks with it: two favorites being a rhubarb-custard cake and rhubarb muffins.  The latter was offered to Mary and me on our recent visit.  The former I have now made twice, which was a challenge.

The first time I tried four different stores before I found a store that stocked it.  This year I returned to the same store and again found it, even though the store had changed management and name.  Several single stalks were still in the same place. And three gave me the four cups chopped I needed.  My purchase depleted the supply by about half.

I think the lack of seasonality in Southern California forces our supply to be hothouse grown.  And the limited supply gets consumed by the Polly Pies and Marie Calendars who flesh out the fresh peach and fresh strawberry menu with a rhubarb pie to meet the needs of the geriatric relocated population.  The same way as you can find frozen White Castle burgers at the Laguna Woods golf course restaurant.

While for the most part rhubarb is considered a healthy food, the fact that most recipes call for considerable sugar makes that suspect and, in much more than normal quantities the oxalic acid content could even become fatal. Of no significance to that observation is the fact that when our son Tim returns from chaperoning his eighth graders through the East Coast, he always brings some rhubarb jam to us.  Hmmm...

Once, when I was required to give a Change of Command speech I took advantage of the fields surrounding the base dental clinic to make a point about my staff and comrades of the USMC 13th Dental Company, which I was leaving.  I likened some of the civilian staff, who preceded my arrival and would outlast my departure to the artichokes growing in the field.  At the time, a farmer would need three seasons before he or she would be able to harvest artichokes to sell at market: steady, worth the wait, and once accomplished provided a valuable resource of themselves and as models.  The new civilians and junior officers were like the orange groves I could see and smell from the podium: bright, abundant in their value but less distinguished from each other, more viable as a group.  The core of the unit was likened to the strawberries in the fields: unique in time and location and providing value felt through the unit, the Corps, and the rest of the world.

Years later I heard from someone who attended that they still remembered that speech, in spite of having heard dozens made at similar occasions.  I know I still remember many of those I referenced.

Burt Bacharach has recently published a book and was mentioning it on NPR.  In my next post I’ll share with you what that made me think of, and why.  Please come visit.

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