Loves rhubarb but not rhubarb

HAPPY EATER

April 03, 1991|By ROB KASPER

I have reformulated my position on rhubarb.

I was raised in a pro-rhubarb home. Rhubarb appeared at our dinner table not only in its polite form, as a pie, but also in its unruly stewed state.

When you glanced at a rhubarb pie covered with crust it looked pretty presentable. It could pass for a normal dessert, giving you very few clues that strange stalky stuff lurked below the topping.

But stewed rhubarb was flat-out ugly. It was long and stringy. It didn't merely sit in a bowl, it swam around the edges.

And it was a weird color, a scarlet-purple-mauve.

It didn't look edible. And it sure didn't look like dessert. Yet every time my mom would put some rhubarb on the table, my dad would sigh with delight.

"Ahhh, rhubarb," he would say as he was presented with a big bowl of the stuff. "Lovely rhubarb."

When my brothers and I first heard these exclamations, we thought they were a trick. They were a parental ploy, we figured, to get us to eat something good for us.

After all, my dad was the same guy who tried to get us to smell the horseradish.

Who tried to get us to eat beets by telling us "they're good for your blood."

Who lobbied for turnips by playing on our loyalty to the Lil' Abner comic strip and our desire to have big muscles. "Have some turnips, boys," he'd say. "They're Mammy Yokum's favorite food."

And who resorted to poetry to try to get us to eat cauliflower. "See the little cauliflower, growing sweeter by the hour."

So when bowls of stewed rhubarb were placed in front of my brothers and me, we didn't make a move. We sat there, waiting for someone to tell us we had to eat it.

We waited and waited, but heard no admonition. All we heard was the sound of my dad's spoon cleaning out the remains of his bowl of rhubarb.

It became clear to me that this wasn't a trick, my dad really liked rhubarb. Moreover, I had to act fast. This stuff was strange, but it was, nonetheless, dessert. In our family the rule was if you didn't eat your dessert somebody else could. And the life-expectancy for most dessertswas measured in minutes.

I knew that if I didn't take a bite of this rhubarb, it would soon be scooped up by my dad. The thought of losing any dessert, even one that looked like purple string, moved me to action. Quickly I swallowed a spoonful of stewed rhubarb.

I liked it. It did feel like strands of spaghetti were moving around in my mouth. But it also had the pleasant taste of an old friend, sugar. Lots of sugar.

It was so sweet that for a moment I thought it could even be candy. If you didn't have to look at it, rhubarb was OK.

So from then on I was in the pro-rhubarb ranks.

And as I grew up and moved away from home, I found myself singing its praises and telling flattering stories about its digestive powers. Like my father before me, I was upholding the honor of rhubarb.

But while I was talking a lot about rhubarb, I wasn't eating it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was judge in a pie contest and that changed. I tasted pies made of cherries, apples, lemons, blueberries, pecans and a couple made of rhubarb.

The rhubarb never appeared alone in a pie. It always had another filling part with it, like apple or pineapple. My theory is that these ingredients went into a rhubarb pie for the same reason I used to get my big brother and his girlfriend to go along with me on a big date. The lively extra company helped prevent dull spots.

After getting reacquainted with rhubarb I realized that now I didn't like it much.

Still I felt an obligation to my dad, and to my years of rhubarb defense work.

So I thought long and hard, and have formulated this position.

I don't care for rhubarb pie. It is too sweet.

The word "rhubarb" does, however, have another meaning. It is baseball slang for a messy situation, or fight.

So while I no longer care for "rhubarb" as a dessert, I am quite fond of it as a noun.

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