Rhubarb is sturdy and prolific, loyally perennial, totally bugproof, high yielding, and easy to pick—the long stalks pull straight out of the ground, without any of that pesky fruit-foraging among leaves and brambles or high up in a tree. Plus, there's no dauntingly finicky coring, peeling, or pitting—you just slice it up and you're ready to bake. All of this makes it satisfying to grow and inexpensive to buy: Where we live, spring farmers' markets fill with towers of blushing stalks that go for a few dollars a bundle, while signs along our country roads beg FREE RHUBARB! HELP YOURSELF! And I do.
Rhubarb is utterly without pretense: If it were a person, it would be wearing sensible shoes and a kerchief, which may be why, when you talk to people about rhubarb, the word grandma will come up more often than not. And so it is with my own children. At my parents' farmhouse in upstate New York, my father and I are watching out the window while the kids, in their Wellies, bend over the rhubarb patch with my mother. They're tugging silky, scarlet stalks from the ground as the sky darkens to the deep blue of spring twilight, and my father and I talk about rhubarb's insane tartness ("Hang on, I already measured the sugar," he jokes, and hefts a five-pound bag onto the counter). The kids will help my mother mix the topping and cut up the rhubarb, which will go tender in the oven under its cover of crisping brown sugar, and we will eat the crumble warm with vanilla ice cream—the kids already in their pajamas—and everyone's eyes will squinch half shut in puckery pleasure. Whoever first thought to eat rhubarb? They were totally crazy—but we are so grateful.
Catherine Newman, author of the memoir Waiting for Birdy, writes a food and parenting column, Dalai Mama Dishes, on Family.com.