Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's A Family Affair

Yesterday found us at the Dane County Farmer's Market in downtown Madison. If you have never been to this market, you are missing something special. After being cooped up most of the winter due to plummeting temperatures bottoming out around -17 degrees, Wisconsinites are pretty happy when April rolls around and the sun has warmed the earth enough to produce the first crops of the season. Folks come out in droves to the farmer's market to walk the capitol square and it's a veritable cornucopia of sights and sounds. It's easy to feel overstimulated at first, especially if you are like me and don't get out much. There are so many amazing vendors and each stall is more alluring than the last, but I finally found what I was really looking for- rhubarb, the unofficial herald of spring.

I can't say that I have much experience with this mysterious vegetable aside from the ubiquitous strawberry rhubarb pie everyone trots out this time of year, but something about it intrigues me. Perhaps it's because the cherry-red celery looking stalk reminds me of a silk taffeta Belle Epoch dress, or maybe it's the challenge of an unknown food. Whatever it is, I set out for the market with rhubarb on the brain. We found an organic farm selling beautiful stalks with the dirt still hanging on and promptly purchased 1 1/2 lbs.

Today we spent a good deal of Mother's Day afternoon cooking and baking together. I had found a recipe for Rhubarb Ginger jam in Gourmet magazine and thought it sounded heavenly, especially on homemade bread. Sam and Oliver set about chopping the stalks into pieces while I chopped the crystallized ginger. Sam and O look like the dueling chefs here, but I assure you, it was all amicable.When all the ingredients were ready to cook, I was dubious about the contents of my pan turning into jam. After a few minutes, however, the most amazing smells wafted into the air. As Ryan put it, it was like a floral perfume, but in the best subtle way possible. I actually closed my eyes when I did the first taste test and all I can say is that it tasted like Spring. The combination of lemon and crystallized ginger provided a nice contrast to the tartness of the rhubarb and there was none of the stringiness usually associated with the plant.

While the boys and I were doing all this, Ryan set about making Oatmeal Honey Bread.

The boys could hardly wait for the bread to cool off enough to cut into thick steaming slices. We slathered each piece in butter and fresh jam and enjoyed a lovely meal a la Frances. Which is appropriate, if you think about it. Frances is a badger. And Wisconsin is the badger state.

Here's my riff on the Rita Newell Rhubarb Ginger Jam recipe:

1 1/2 lbs. fresh rhubarb cut into 3/4" pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
Zest from one lemon

Combine all ingredients in heavy duty sauce pan.
Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Prepare jars if canning or let cool and eat right away. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 1 week.


  1. This looks like a perfect day. I wish I could have been there!

    Oh, and for some reason my mac doesn't allow me to comment on your blog (it's getting funny in its old age of almost 4 yrs..), so I'm writing this on my home PC computer. If I don't comment as frequently as I blog, know that I'm still reading and loving your posts, and will comment as soon as I'm at another computer! :]

    miss you

  2. p.s. I think you're the only mom I know who has raised her kids well enought o be trusted with knives at age 4!

  3. I highly recommend the rhubarb crumble recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I can send it to you if you don't have it :)
    And Im thrilled that you have begun a blog. It is so inspiring to read thoughts and opinions of other like minded mamas. Plus Summer talks about you so much I feel like Iv know you forever ;)

  4. Jenn, how did I miss your comment? So sorry! I'd LOVE more rhubarb recipes. I'm glad to get a recommendation for that book, too. I've seen it at various bookshops and I'll have to check it out at the library and give it a read.