Tribute to a Working Woman

Rhubarb

By Clotilde Hryshko

Jim’s grandmother, Earline, recently passed away. This is said not to elicit a reaction but to explain my current thoughts and possible obsessions.

Simply put, she worked. She was a college educated woman who became a mill worker. She and her husband enjoyed gardening. They subscribed to Organic Gardening, planted an apple orchard and a blueberry patch. They earned extra income tending a market garden and selling the produce to The Woodstock Inn in Woodstock, Vermont. All this before these activities were fashionable or part of a marketing campaign. 

I can hear her tell how in 1969 she and her husband worked a double shift all summer to earn enough money to redo their kitchen. She mowed her own lawn, including the orchard, until she was incapable. She canned and froze her own vegetables and fruits during the summer. This was not unique for that generation except she continued to do so long past necessity. She continued partly because she thought her produce tasted better and partly to stay active. The latter is often misunderstood – physical labor as a passing of the seasons. It is dismissed as puttering, passing time or a hobby. I think for many of us who engage in physical labor, by choice, part of the willingness to do so is an effort to not take others’ labor for granted. Jim’s grandmother had her stereotypes of native Vermonter and flatlander. In many of her stories, the hidden moral was that the flatlander assumed that everything could be bought.

May and June are some of the busiest months I experience. There is greenhouse work, transplanting, weeding and harvesting demanding attention. This year, things are exacerbated by temperature fluctuations and little precipitation. I am in the middle of one of my three weeding cycles in the asparagus. Given that asparagus is a perennial and is continually sending up new shoots that you don’t want to snap off, it requires a certain amount of hand weeding if it is to be grown organically. The residue of the previous years growth makes it particularly difficult – sharp, carbonaceous material ready to scratch or poke. With today’s combination of bugs and hand desiccating soil conditions it is easy to let the mind wander into the territory akin to native/flatlander via Earline.

Now cue the music from Prairie Home Companion that always accompanies the rhubarb pie skits. Rhubarb is such a forgiving plant – the productivity is endearing. May and June also has rhubarb entering our routines, helping with the unforgiving moods. I make rhubarb syrup. (Cut the rhubarb in chunks; cook down with some water until soft and then strain. Discard the fibers and sweeten the juice with sugar to taste. It’s rhubarb, so be prepared to be shocked at the sugar quantity. It is easier to dissolve the sugar if you reheat the liquid.) The May-June cocktail is ¼ cup of syrup mixed with a wheat beer.

I’m sure there are spices and flavors that could be added but not today. Today a toast to Earline is in order. (Photo by Marya Merriam)

Posted in Produce

One Comment

  1. marits said...

    The Seattle Times just featured an ode of sorts to rhubarb and the small town at the foot of Mt Rainier that still grows some mighty fine stalks. The Washington Rhubarb Growers want to share recipes with us too.Article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/pacificnw/2011961722_pacificptaste06.html?cmpid=2628Farmers: http://www.ci.sumner.wa.us/Rhubarb/Baking.htm

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