Amateur Night in the kitchen–with special guest, Rhubarb

It’s on the verge of toppling over to summer on the prairie and as I watch all things grow and reach to the sky, blossom and sprout and green up, I talk about it with neighbors and friends. We talk about lawn mowing and how saturated the ground is. We talk about lilacs and what we’re planting this year. We talk about tulips and getting the outdoor flowers in pots.

We talk about weeds and weather and the short growing season.

And we talk about rhubarb.

Because it’s a universal language around here. If you’re from the prairie you have undoubtedly tasted rhubarb in many forms, in jellies, jams, syrups, pies, cakes, cookies, puddings, salads and breads. You have probably had it pickled, cooked, souped, dried and made into wine. 

Hell, if you’re really thrifty you’ve probably made boats or clothing or shelter out of it. It’s so abundant around here husband’s working on a way to burn it for an alternative, renewable and cheap fuel source.

It’s so common and hearty that I had a patch of it growing on our land and didn’t even know it–until pops came over with his shovel looking to add a another plant  to his garden.

“More rhubarb!? Wait. I have rhubarb?” I said as he marched behind the house and over to the area where my grandmother (his mother) once kept her garden. And sure enough, there on the end of the spindly plum trees and looking dangerously similar to my enemy, burdock, sat a two big, leafy rhubarb plants.

As pops dug his shovel around the perimeter of the smaller plant and placed it in the back of his pickup for transplanting, it occurred to me that these plants have likely been growing here my entire life. And that rhubarb jam and syrup and crisp I remember from my childhood more than likely came from them.

Now that’s what you call an heirloom vegetable.

Anyway, suddenly I had a craving for all things rhubarb. Suddenly I was working hard to channel Betty Crocker with all of these ideas and confidence for creating something delicious with the only edible thing (besides dandelions) growing in my yard this spring.

I called husband to come and help me collect some of the stalks while informing him quite assuredly that I was going to make something delicious out of this.

“It’s easy,”  I said to him as he pulled the stocks from the ground. “It’s easy I’m sure because everyone’s doing it. There’s rhubarb something-or-other every where I turn. How hard can it be>”

So off he went to break the inedible (and I heard from the ladies at the museum yesterday, poisonous..eek!) leaves off of the top of the plants and off I went to google the shit out of “Rhubarb recipes.”

Yes. I Googled it. 

Just like I Googled jelly making.

Don’t judge.

My human resources are limited on this subject and by 9:30 pm, I am sure all two of them were wrapping up their own rhubarb projects and getting ready for bed like normal, hardworking women with a head on their shoulders.

My head? Well, it was quickly spinning because as soon as I plugged  “Rhubarb Recipes” into the search engine the first thing that came up was an entire website dedicated to the plant.

I am not kidding.

Here it is.

But you probably all know about it anyway because you probably contribute and wear that rhubarb t-shirt they’re selling around as you work in your gardens and make exquisite rhubarb pies in your kitchens.

Damn you and all your homemaking capabilities!

Sorry. I had to get it out because at 9:45 pm on a Tuesday night I dove into that rhubarb website and didn’t come out on the other end until well past midnight.

It was a harsh lesson in the dangers of being a rookie homemaker with full internet access and all human life-lines tucked tight in bed.

Anyway after purchasing my very own “Got Rhubarb?” t-shirt from the site (because I believe there’s nothing like a t-shirt to commemorate brave events like this) and browsing through countless muffin, sauce, pie and bar recipes, I chose the following after having a recent delicious encounter with a strawberry-rhubarb jam made from a professional.


2 pounds strawberries (4 cups, mashed)

2 pounds rhubarb (8 cups, 1/2 inch pieces)

6 cups sugar


Wash fruit. Cut rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces. Cover rhubarb with half of the sugar and let stand 1 to 2 hours. Crush berries and mix with remaining sugar and combine with rhubarb. Place mixture over low heat until sugar is dissolved, then boil rapidly, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Cook until thick. Pour into sterilized Kerr jars to within 1/4 inch of top. Put on cap, screw band firmly tight. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Yield: 10 eight oz. jar

I am not a professional. Did I mention this? But the presence of only three ingredients enticed me.

I had strawberries.

I had sugar. I definitely had rhubarb. I had (too much) confidence and I thought I had a stove around here somewhere… I was certain I was on my way to the Homemaker Hall of Fame…

Until I realized I didn’t actually have jars.


So I jumped in the pickup and made a trip to my mommas to collect the jars that once contained delicious Christmas preserves and tomato soups and homemade pickles and jelly from my aunt and neighbors.

Fifteen minutes later it was 10:00 pm and I was back in the kitchen realizing that not having canning supplies in the house wasn’t going to be my first and only rookie move. Turns out starting this project past 9:00 in the evening after skimming the recipe and skipping over the part where the rhubarb needs to stand in sugar for 1 to 2 hours was my second mistake.

Oh well, I just finished mowing the lawn, fed the calf and took that long anticipated shower while I waited.

And by then I was ready to realize my third rookie mistake: getting a vague recipe off of the internet without even watching a damn YouTube video on the topic.

What do you mean by “cook until thick?” What’s thick? How thick? How long? What am I doing? Where am I and what did you do with Martha Stewart’s voice that’s supposed to be running through my head right now?

Which brings me to rookie move number four: over confidence. Over confidence in a usually under-confident kitchen rat. That and allowing husband to fall asleep while I attempted to pour what I decided was thick-enough, boiling-hot jam into the boiling-hot jars.


I think the snoring coming from our bedroom three steps away was a little exaggerated and a lot fake.

I was on my own. On my own with a sticky mess,

six jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam

and a kitchen that looked like this.

I wept.

And then, at 12:30 am realized my fifth and final mistake:

Not. Making. Wine.

Oh well, I wiped the jars, and plopped down next to husband and poked him.

Still, er, sleeping.

And then I asked: “What’s another name for rhubarb?”


“Celery with a sunburn…bwhwahahahhah!”

I guess he really was sleeping ’cause I know he would have laughed at that one.

Anyway, turns out the jam was rookie-proof and my family has been enjoying it on toast, ice-cream and pancakes. I haven’t dared open my own jar yet, knowing that my family can be overly kind and encouraging, especially when it comes to someone in the family attempting anything domestic.

They always give an A for effort.

Anyone have any rookie-proof rhubarb recipes? I heard that rhubarb grows back….

Oh, and since you learned what not to do here,  check out this site for a glimpse into the kitchen of a professional rhubarb connoisseur to learn how to do it right: Rhubarb and Venison 

28 thoughts on “Amateur Night in the kitchen–with special guest, Rhubarb


    1 white or yellow cake mix
    4 c. finely cut rhubarb
    2/3 c. sugar
    1 box Jello (3 oz.), strawberry, raspberry or cherry
    2 c. miniature marshmallows

    Spread rhubarb in bottom of 9×13 pan. Sprinkle with sugar, Jello powder. Spread marshmallows over this. Mix cake mix as directed on package. Pour over mixture. Bake 45 minutes at 350. Serve with whipped cream.


    This is a recipie out of my grandma’s kitchen. While she always would turn it over and it would be the perfect upside down cake, I have yet to figure that part of it out. I just wait to serve it and flip it on the plate 🙂 This method doesn’t make me cry when half of it is still stuck in the pan. Just make sure you PREPARE THE CAKE MIX. I have a VERY blonde sister who didnt remember that part and it was an epic failure!

    Happy Rhubarb Cooking!

    • Lindz, I can always count on you for a recipe….like when I would come into your office and ask what you were making for supper that night…and then go and try to make the same thing 🙂 I think I will try this recipe and maybe skip the flip and eat it right out of the pan.

  2. You are such a delight! I love your column!

    I first came across it just a couple months ago. I work in Programming at Prairie Public, and one of our employees who’s in Radio here, shared your blog with the staff.

    You have quite a sense of humor and your photography is wonderful!! I hope I get to hear you sing sometime – do you ever perform in Fargo? If so, I’d love to know when & where.

    I, too, have had a few “experiences” with rhubarb – can’t wait to hear some stories about chokecherries, that I’m sure must be growing somewhere on your ranch as well (now there’s a fruit for the wine gods)!

    You are a very talented woman, Jessie – thanks for sharing your talents with us.

    From a new, but avid fan,

    Terri Greene
    Prairie Public Broadcasting

  3. This is take 2 on commenting…1st one seems to have disappeared??? I wrote quite a bit more, but now the wind is totally out of my sails and I don’t want to rethink what I wrote…so just know that this is HI-LAR-I-OUS!!! And I appreciate you and your rookie-proof jam sharing self! 🙂

      • Hahaha! Me, domestic diva? I’d have to imagine it also, because reality is that I am far from it.
        When I said “this is hilarious”, I was talking about your post, just to clarify. 🙂
        My original comment included some things about how I was all excited about rhubarb my first spring up here and I too googled it and read all sorts of stuff about it, even considering following directions for making stepping stones out of the leaves. Psh! Total spring fever, or the poison in the rhubarb leaves was making its way to my brain and muddling my thinking, because I am not at all crafty!
        I also said something about how I have yet to find an outstanding rhubarb recipe, one that I can’t wait to make again, and I think the popularity of rhubarb has more to do with its willingness to reappear year after year than its flavor. However, my favorite rhubarb recipe so far is a rhubarb custard pie which I made last year following a recipe which was emailed to me by a friend’s mom. But that computer died so I found a similar one here:
        If you use a store bought pie crust (which I do…see, more proof of my non-domesticity) it’s easy-peasy and with whip cream, quite yummy! 🙂

  4. Celery with a sunburn… HaHAAAAA. 😀

    We just made “Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake” – which is basically Rhubarb Marshmallow Cake with another cup of marshmallows and a double box of jello…upside-down. 🙂 Delicious!

    I was put in charge of flipping it while Bobbi was away, and even though a hefty chunk made a huge “Splat!” sound on the counter as I tried my best to turn, toss, and throw it in a downward motion against the pan, I avoided MAJOR catastrophe and we’ve been enjoying it all week. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 🙂

    • Ok, I just got the greatest visual of you and Bobbi in the kitchen and your “turn, toss, and throw in a downward motion” motion is totally something I can picture. You are domestic goddesses and this cake sounds heavenly…upside down or right side up or splatted against the counter…for breakfast, lunch, dinner and second dinner 🙂

  5. I made rhubarb-strawberry jam about three yrs was good stuff. Rhubarb-rasberry jam is great and so is rhubarb-boysenberry jam. The last time I made jam, decided to put paraffin wax on top and almost started my kitchen on fire w/ the hot wax. UFF’Da. Probably why I haven’t made it again but I will. Rhubarb sauce is heavenly on ice cream 🙂 Too bad the rest in my family don’t appreciate like I do :(. Glad u had fun. Nicole

  6. We used to make an easy jam with rhubarb, canned blueberry pie filling and cherry jello. I would eat rhubarb every day when we had it. My father loved the “sauce”, and I loved the crisp and pie. And anywhere there is a 4-H cookbook or REC cookbook, there are easy, homespun rhubarb recipes.

  7. Yum yum yum!! I like to make rhubarb/apple crisp. (( all my measurements are estimates b/c I don’t really … measure ))

    Chop ~1 cup of rhubarb & 3-4 peeled apples, toss with brown sugar & cinnamon and pour into a greased pan. Top with a crumbly mixture ~ 1 c flour, 3/4 c rolled oats, 1/2 br sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon and 1 stick of butter. How to crumble? Mix dry ingredients then stir in butter “chunks” and mix with hands until the mixture is crumbling. (Butter should be room temp before you start). Pour loosely over fruit and bake till bubbling in a hot oven (about 350 for 30-45 min). Serve hot with ice cream on top and watch your man’s eyes roll back in his head 🙂 Cheers! MJ

  8. Jesse, I am reminded of two things by your pics and the commentary.

    First when I made Rhubarb pie with my Mom a few years ago here on our farm in MN. I think it was easier but the same concotion of Rhubarb and Strawberries with a couple table spoons of Tapioca pudding stired in. Put on the top crust and bake at 350 for about twenty to 30 minutes.

    The second thing is that your husband does look like a handsome fella…. what little I can see peaking out from under that hat. I know that I am not the only one that noticed.

    He looks kinda like my husband only about twenty years ago. They get even more handsomee as they age. I know Ive been looking at mine for thirty years. He was the closest I could come to a cowboy here in the land of ten thousand lakes. I like him oodles more than A NYTHING Rhubarb!!!

    It must mean we “prairie girls” attract em irregardless of where we are when they “attach”.


    • Oh my gosh Holly, I love what you had to say about men and rhubarb so much. Yes, my hubby is quite handsome. I tell him everyday, because I do believe every day he gets more good looking. Thanks for noticing:) I too like him more than anything rhubarb…
      And I might need to try a rhubarb pie with pudding indeed! Thanks for sharing my fellow prairie girl!

  9. I can’t believe I don’t have any rhubarb yet! My plants didn’t really do much this year – too much rain I guess. Normally, a lack of rhubarb is not a problem. Now I will have to hint around some more at work. Nice story and nice recipes everyone!

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