It is magical how something simple can transport us to another time, amongst people we love, to memories…so often bittersweet. Suddenly and without warning, I found myself in Great Aunt Donna’s garden. I could see her jutting along with clippers and bags. I could see her deftly slicing the tops off the rhubarb stalks with a paring knife. Her light hair curled and in place, her squints of joy through her glasses, her smile because we were there.
I took another bite and felt the sunshine of a spring day cusping into summer, the smell of damp soil, as I walked towards her garden.
The jar has sat on my pantry shelf for the past five years. It was time to eat it. The rouge of the stalks had disappeared and the sliced vegetable had turned a blue-green color. The pieces looked nothing like they began and were soggy and sad. Aunt Donna had told me after I canned all those jars of rhubarb how to freeze future harvests. 6 cups of sliced rhubarb, 2 cups of sugar in a freezer bag. They scarcely lasted the year.
Yet, those original jars of rhubarb still moped on the shelf and I decided on a whim to drain a jar and make a rhubarb crisp. I sliced some frozen strawberries and blended it with the soft rhubarb, stickily sweet from all those years in sugar syrup. I needn’t add more. I stirred in a bit of flour. Topped the whole thing with oats, chopped Brazil nuts, freshly crushed cardamom, brown sugar, crumbled together with coconut oil. I baked it. It smelled divine. I poured my coffee and took a bite.
Suddenly and without warning, I am gathering up giant leaves of rhubarb and placing them into the compost bin laughing. I always loved Aunt Donna’s garden. She showed me tricks to composting, to growing, to harvesting. She introduced me to Jerusalem Artichokes and she let me harvest her wild medicines, though she doubted they were medicines at all. She would call me on the phone and say, “The rhubarb (or grapes, or apples, or…) are ready, you better come get them!” She waited for us to drive to Denver to her house on a busy corner and take what we liked before she let others come. I was always mindful and left plenty.
Rhubarb season is still a few months away. Great Aunt Donna’s rhubarb is no longer there. Neither is she. But if I close my eyes and take another bite of this rhubarb crisp, I shall be by her side once more, slicing rhubarb, and enjoying the sunny spring day. And there is one more jar on the shelf.