My Great Gran Emmy and her powder-blue home on Lena Street stir many memories. Papa Oz passed away when Eleni and I were little girls – just old enough that I remember the funeral home and his so-very-serious brown suit – so most of the images I hold of my gran are her alone in that little house.
There she was, propped up in her flowery pink bed, ubiquitous crochet needles alternating in her shaky arthritic hands with the equally ubiquitous chain of cigarettes and china tea cup rattling on its saucer. Sometimes we would sit at the foot of the bed petting Muffin – her angry little lhasa apso – but more likely at her kitchen table where she’d always have still-slightly-frozen jam thumbprint cookies waiting.
But the rhubarb. Come spring, it was another world behind that little house on Lena, a world entirely composed of sturdy pale blushing stalks under great big leafy-green canopies. If you’ve ever grown rhubarb (intentionally or otherwise) you know what I mean. Its season comes much earlier than the rest of the garden, and good thing at that, as it just doesn’t know when to stop growing.
We’d be set outside to rip these abundant stalks from the earth, little girl against plant, using all our weight to yank the stalks (most taller than us) with an “oof!”, give them a rinse with the garden hose, and cart our treasure to the kitchen, a great pile forming alongside the jam thumbprints.
Gran Emmy made lots of things with her rhubarb. Crumbles and jam and the most incredible strawberry-pineapple-rhubarb sauce that she’d spoon for us still warm into little black and white Pyrex bowls. But when I’m feeling slightly less indulgent and want to extend the rhubarb’s life past me eating it straight from the pot (not that I’ve ever done that) I make apple-rhubarb butter. Very tart, slightly sweet, smoother than jam but thicker than a sauce – it’s good on toast and in oatmeal, or let’s be honest – straight from the spoon.
Apple Rhubarb Butter
Tonight when I saw six brilliant fat rhubarb stalks at the Riverdale Market I snatched them up. If you’re near Toronto’s east end on Tuesday evenings, Riverdale sets up a great market that’s open from 3-7pm through to October.
4 medium-size apples, diced fine (a sweet variety, like galas or pink ladies or golden delicious)
6c rhubarb, cut across in small pieces
1/2c brown sugar, loosely packed (or more to taste up to 1c – I like my butter very tart)
2 500mL glass jars, sterilized
Before you start, boil the jars to ensure they’re nice and clean. I use old almond butter jars, since they’re abundant in my cupboards.
Dump the diced apple and a bit of hot water (1/4c or so) into a pan over high heat. Cook, stirring often, until the apples are mostly broken down and soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the sliced rhubarb and a bit more water if needed, reduce heat to medium-high. Cook the rhubarb down with the apples, stirring frequently. When you have a sauce, add the brown sugar and stir. Keep reducing until the sauce thickens considerably, about 30 minutes. The mixture will have cooked ~45 minutes from start to end.
Ladel into clean jars and lid. Let cool and store in jars in fridge for up to a week (though it won’t last that long). Makes four cups.