The Rhubarb

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Several months ago I entered the Lake House Food Writing Award held as part of the Daylesford and Macedon Produce Harvest Week Festival. My piece 'The Rhubarb' won the competition!
(I know! Yay!! It's such an honour!!) and the piece has since been published on the Daylesford Macedon Produce website, so I thought I'd share it with you here too. Enjoy!
(Oh, and if you ever need any rhubarb... you know who to ask!)
- Kathy. x

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There are photographs of me as a child running around the garden at my Nana and Pop’s home, in the western district town of Colac. Widely grinned and messily pig-tailed I would run, chasing their happy dog Beau, or him chasing me? Never sure which – it’s hard to tell who’s chasing who when you’re running in a circle.

Nanas and Pops have magical gardens. Trees to climb, flowers to pick, potions and perfumes to make from the petals of roses, and always a vegetable patch full of something for dinner.

My Nana grew rhubarb. You can see it in the old photos. That odd vegetable. The shiny red celery with poisonous leaves… The strange edible stick with the silent ‘h’. The Rhubarb would show up in hot stewed fruit for dessert, or cold stewed fruit for breakfast, in pickles and chutneys, or my favourite… as a sticky crumble after a roast dinner.

Nana’s rhubarb was indestructible. On numerous occasions Beau would chase the tennis ball into the patch (nothing to do with me I promise!) and flatten the rhubarb. Beau would be forcibly removed from the vegie patch. Fences erected. Tennis balls banned. And still it grew, unaware of the trauma inflicted by the dog. It grew in spite of the seasons. It grew when everything else was toasted and wasted in the drought of the early ‘80s. It flourished when everything was brown.

Nana gave a pot of her rhubarb to my mum.

Seventy kilometres down the road, Nana’s gifted rhubarb sent forth its tentacle-like tap root and before long had taken over half the vegie patch – In a display not dissimilar to the Crown of Thorns Starfish enveloping the Great Barrier Reef.
It is a beast of a plant.
A delicious beast.

And so, many years later, once I had found a patch of land in Daylesford to put down some roots of my own, my mum bequeathed to me a pot of Nana’s heirloom rhubarb from her garden to mine.

Not having a vegetable garden, and desperate to be free of the pot, the rhubarb was hastily relocated to a strange spot along a retaining wall. The wall has since been replaced, and in the process the tap roots, metres long, were exposed. As thick as elephant trunks and tougher than the fibre optic cables that carry the information of the globe under the oceans, the tap roots could hold up swing bridges, could carry the cables for Australia’s NBN. The tap roots could be used to moor great container ships, or to lasso The Hulk.

I love my rhubarb. I love the weird, bright-red, celery-looking, stringy, stick-like vegetable-fruit with the poisonous leaves in its strange spot along-side the retaining wall. The rhubarb is one of my favourite things in my Daylesford garden.

The rhubarb is now stirred into my own chutneys and pickles, it is blended with other fruits to make compotes for breakfasts, and it combines beautifully with apples and ginger for sweet and sticky autumnal crumbles. It is picked by the bunch, bundled and tied with string and shared with friends.

My wonderful Nana and Pop passed away some years ago now. But their memory (and some of my favourite childhood memories) lives on in my garden, through this remarkable… strange, seemingly indestructible and wonderfully delicious, true heirloom plant.

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