This month is so full of bluster. Not just the wind, but the false promises, too. Here we are, coming out of these last cold, dark months, and the arrival of March seems like something big. We made it, right? But, no. Instead, it seems worse than ever, because suddenly the cold is wet, and the wind whips around like it never did in January or February. Foodwise, too, March seems full of false promise. It\'s barely time to plant, never mind harvest.
But some things trickle in, and considering how they come to fruition in a world of weak sun and chilly mornings, we really should give them their due. Rhubarb, for example, the tart red stalk that looks like a fancy cousin to celery, is one of the first arrivals of the year. Since late winter/early spring doesn\'t make for juicy sweet fruit, rhubarb (which is actually a vegetable) is usually mixed with strawberries and sugar to make it palatable. Its leaves, which are poisonous, are never used.
OK, so it\'s not the shining star of the dessert world. But if we hadn\'t been eating imported clementines and strawberries all winter, if the only fruit we\'d had for several months were some soft, tired apples and whatever preserves we had left over from last summer, then the bright acidic twang of a piece of rhubarb pie might be a good reason to get excited.
But of course, most of us - and certainly I have been eating clementines and strawberries all winter. For me, the sight of a pile of rhubarb in the produce aisle is not exactly making me jump for joy the way, for instance, the first piece of corn of the summer might. But, rhubarb is local and seasonal, so I buy it and bring it home and try to think of what to do with it. This might just be the way we have to do it, to get back in sync with the seasons.
If we mimic our ancestors and eat tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer, squash and apples in the fall, nuts and grains in the winter, we might find ourselves with better flavors, stronger local food sources, and a real taste for the subtle pleasures of seasonal changes. Like the fact that there is more light every day, that blade by blade the gray March landscape is slowly turning green, and that the rhubarb is here.
So I find things to do with rhubarb, and it turns out there are many, and they are delicious. One of my favorite things is to serve it to kids. They are highly suspicious. "I\'m really sure I\'m not going to like this," a 10-year-old in my cooking class told me. We were making rhubarb-strawberry cake - a buttermilk cake with a swirl of rhubarb-strawberry compote. Of course, they loved it. And so do I. Bright and tart with a sweet, spongy cake around it, how could we not, even after a winter of citrus and strawberries?
Larissa Phillips is an award-winning writer,
cooking instructor and food writer for Parenthood.com and Dominion Parenting
Media. Email her at FeedingYourFamily@Parenthood.com.