One of my favorite things about spring is the appearance of asparagus and rhubarb in the markets. Lately, I have been cooking up vats of rhubarb sauce ~ I just eat it plain, bowls of it! I can’t seem to get enough! Here’s my recipe:
1 pound rhubarb stalks
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Combine and cook over low heat until the rhubarb is tender and you can stir it into a puree. Chill and eat! I know a lot of people add fancy things like corn starch (makes it goopy), lemon (rhubarb’s not tart enough?!?!), port, or red food coloring ~ but I think the simpler the better.
Anyway, my current rhubarb craze led me to do a little research. Rhubarb has its origins in Asia as a medicinal plant ~ its roots valued for their cathartic properties. It most likely came to Europe as a result of the silk and spice trade, and by the 18th century was being cultivated for culinary purposes. However, the plant we now use for sauces and pies is probably a hybrid of its Asian ancestor (see above). The plant was brought to America some time between 1780 and 1800 by a gardener from Maine (!) who apparently procured seeds or root stock from Europe. And generations of Maine women have been cooking it up ever since.
(image: François-Pierre Chaumeton, Flore Médicale [Paris, 1814], plate 297)