Monthly Archives: April 2009

Rhubarb – A “Firstfruit” of Spring

You know that spring has arrived when the first little red shoots of rhubarb poke through the ground!

Also called pie plant, this perennial has been around for many years. In the past it was used as a “spring tonic” to help stimulate the digestive system after a long winter of preserved foods. (I will vouch from personal experience that rhubarb does have that quality!)

Rhubarb just seemed to belong to our old farmstead, so I was surprised that we couldn’t find any.

I was even more surprised to find that I had trouble getting a patch started. Every year my mom would send us home with some roots to plant, and every year they would immediately die.

Finally one of our neighbors – who has a beautiful rhubarb patch – told me the secret. She said that rhubarb does not like to have its feet wet. All I needed to do was to mound up the dirt into a little hill before I planted the rhubarb.

It worked! My patch is finally looking nice and really producing!

Rhubarb can be picked just as soon as the stem is long enough. Just grab the stem and pull – it should just “pop” out. Then take a knife and hack off the poisonous leaves. (I leave them around the plants as a natural mulch.)

It’s important to never pick so much on a plant that the crown is exposed. I like to pick a few stalks off of each plant and then let them grow back. You can pick rhubarb until the weather warms up, then it will get bitter, but by then we’ve usually had plenty of rhubarb!

After you clean the stalks, they can be cut and used in many recipes or frozen to use in the winter.

To freeze rhubarb: wash the stems and cut into small sections. Place in a ziplock bag and freeze.  A quart bag is a good amount for a rhubarb pie.

Gardening Insecurities

a_stiff_pullI used to be a rather proud gardener.

When we lived in the city I was the only one who gardened on my street, actually the only one on the entire block.

I was the one with a compost bin and fresh vegetables to share.

I had raised beds and my copy of Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew was dog eared and well-used.

I was the expert.

That all changed when we moved to the country.

I actually have a huge garden plot. But now, instead of nice black topsoil, I battle heavy clay and rocks.

I still have a compost pile, but the chickens get most of the scraps I throw on it.

And the critters! I’ve lost more crops to raccoons, deer and rabbits then I’ve harvested.

Here, most of my neighbors have been gardening since before I was alive. They actually know what they are doing. They have somehow figured out to make things grow in this clay-like soil we have.

Their gardens look good in every season! Their peas are trellised, their rows are weed free and they even plant flowers when the vegetables are done for the season! Heavy sigh…

My garden is now in the back of the house, totally hidden from the road and I’m the one receiving their extra bounty.

I’m thankful for their wisdom and the horse manure they share on occasion, but I’m definitely humbled.

It’s a whole new gardening world here – and I’m slowly learning.

Bruno Burgers: Spamburgers Dressed Up

Spam Burgers

I grew up with Spam.

I actually kind of like Spam.  (Please don’t think too badly of me – my tastes have become slightly more refined as I’ve matured.)

One of my favorite Spam dishes is Spamburgers. They were always such a treat at home! Chopped Spam mixed with Velveeta cheese and toasted on a bun – what’s not to like?!

Soon after we were married, my husband was horrified when I mentioned my plan to make them. Spam was not in his vocabulary. (Hey – what can I say – I obviously married up! But I do like to remind him that his ancestors were the ones who brought the world Lutefisk – ‘nuf said!)

It took me awhile to figure out how to dress up this childhood favorite to appease even my wonderful yet “I’m not eating Spam” husband.

It was so simple – I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before! Chopped ham and cheddar cheese. Perfect!

We named them Bruno Burgers after Bruno’s deli on Busytown (my son’s favorite show at the time!)

Bruno Burgers
or Hot Ham and Cheese Sandwiches

Chop some ham in a food processor.
Chop an onion (or part of an onion) in the same food processor.
Add some cheddar cheese.
Add some ketchup and milk to bind them together.

That’s all! (It’s a very exact recipe – as you can tell!)

Open up some buns on a cookie sheet – or you can use bread.

Spread the bruno burger on the buns and bake at 400 degrees until they are bubbly and the cheese is melted.

Don’t want to run the oven- heat them in the microwave until the cheese melts.

These are a perfect way to use up some of that extra Easter ham. They are also great to feed a hungry youth group!

The ham mixture freezes well so it can be made ahead.

It’s still comfort food – just  little dressed up.

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars

Chocolate Cheesecake BrowniesI’ve told you all about my sister Sandy before. She’s the one with the “chocolate house” (Not made of chocolate -of course – but full of chocolate!)

You may remember her as the File That One Under Chocolate lady.

Or the Very Chocolate Brownies and a Very Warm Welcome lady.

Many of my favorite chocolate recipes come from her kitchen.

Sigh…so many chocolate memories we’ve made together!

Knowing that I have a weakness for cheesecake, she recently sent this wonderful recipe! It’s faster and easier than making a cheesecake, but still gives you the same flavors.

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bars
(From the cookbook Best of Country Brownies and Bars)
Jane Nolt of Narvon, PA

3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 – 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 – 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 – 1/2 cups miniature chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans (Sandy left these out – silly girl! When you add the nuts most kids will leave the bars alone!)

2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese (softened)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, salt and baking soda; gradually add to the creamed mixture until blended. Fold in the chocolate chips and the pecans.

Set aside a third of the dough for topping. Press remaining dough into a greased 13-in x 9-in. x 2 in. baking pan. Bake at 350 for 8 min.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Spoon over crust.

Drop teaspoonfuls of reserved dough over filling. Bake at 350 for 35-40 Minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Cover and store in the refrigerator. (I put them in the freezer so it takes longer to eat them!)

Ahh…now you all know why we always have Sandy bring desserts to our family functions!


Burning – A Rite of Spring in the Country

Fall Burning

One of the many things I love about living in the country is the spring burning.

You pick a calm evening after several dry spring days and carefully light fire to your brush pile, or your ditch, or your hillside. It burns off all of last year’s dead grass and undergrowth and in a few weeks the blackened ground is covered with fresh green grass.

We had our own burn this week. After spending several days raking up all of the seed pods under the honey locust trees, we had piles to be burned.

The kids love burn night. They each a fire to “tend” and kept busy throwing pods in, or running to get more dead grass when the fire started to go down.

Ours was a very controlled burn – just several nice piles all lit up – but contained.

But every year their are some burns that go out of control – a neighbor who will start the ditch on fire and end up burning several acres. The fire department is called in and the entire neighborhood comes out to watch the excitement.

I can’t help but see the spiritual connection here.

Can’t you just see the spirit of revival sweeping over the countryside like an out-of-control grass fire? Consuming all it meets – burning up the old grass and underbrush, the sins and habits that bind us, leaving behind ground that is ready for new growth.

Psalm 85:6

“Will you not revive us again so your people may rejoice in you?”