Saturday, July 12, 2008

Best of the Best from Alaska: Rhubarb Reverie

Traveling in Alaska earlier this summer we saw these monstrously huge rhubarb plants sprawling everywhere. Each sighting gave me a thrill. Objectively, I'm not sure I even like rhubarb, but who's objective about food? 

My late grandmother grew rhubarb in her back yard; she served it stewed. How can I describe her rhubarb? A thin, cold, dusty pink soup with little strings floating throughout. Painfully sweet and yet incredibly sour, all at once. My own health-conscious mother kept my sister and me so starved for sugar that we greedily devoured gallons of Grandma Glade's rhubarb every summer when we went back to Utah. 

But how good was it really?

Hardly matters. Today, I always buy rhubarb when I see it in the market. I clip rhubarb recipes. My heart sings whenever I taste it. The rhubarb crisp from the Best of the Best of Alaska, of which I just consumed a conscientiously modest portion, is a little poem of sweet and tart. I regret the scoop of vanilla ice cream. It interfered with the sharp, shivery flavor of rhubarb.

In case it's not clear, I'm in love with the Best of the Best from Alaska. I didn't realize how badly I needed a cookbook like this in my life until I started cooking from it. I will write much, much more about this later, but meanwhile, forgive me, I'm in a bit of a swoon.

Not that everything has worked. Today's strawberry surprise Jell-O salad did not set. That was a disappointment. I was looking forward to it more than I like to admit, which is a telling comment on the contemporary politics of food and taste and class and pleasure. 

I also made sweet-and-sour ribs, which we all enjoyed. Maybe not the best ever, but messy and hearty and porky. Accompaniments: dilled slaw (the vinegary kind which, incidentally, was exactly what Grandma Glade made) and June's Boston Baked Beans

Very tasty. But all I can really think of is the rhubarb.

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