rhubarb parasol 2

Our Yukon rhubarb patch resembles an experimental forestry project. One leaf makes an umbrella for two adults and the reddened stalks look like the lean-muscled, sunburned forearms of a ten-year old boy. Real men wear rhubarb leaves rather than a wee frail fig leaf. I’ve even thought of making a shed out of the robust stems.

Today, the long-bladed knife, more like a machete, will render a stalk or two into sweet and tart rhubarb crunch that will be our offering for a neighbor’s annual summer potluck and music jam. (Okay, I’ll admit, it’s kind of weird to think of her as our neighbor when she lives off-grid about 16 miles away on the Wheaton River.

I’ve never seen such exuberant rhubarb as up in this country. It is continually popping up in the lawn like insurgent dandelions. The cool weather combined with timely moisture and Miss Nancy’s tucking mounds of the neighbor’s horse manure around the plants has created hedges that would prove suitable obstacles in the Grand National Steeplechase horse race.

According to Jill Shepherd,  Alaskan master gardener and retired senior editor of Alaska Magazine, rhubarb was introduced into North America when Russian seafarer and merchant Gregory Shelikhov established the first permanent Russian post in North America on Kodiak Island in 1784. He claimed to have planted it there and wrote in his journals that it did well. (There is no record if he took viable seed or divided sections of the roots to plant.)

Shepherd, author and amateur historian, says that rhubarb was such an important trade item at one time in Russia that by 1638 they had a Department of Rhubarb. In those times it was not used so much as a food item as a dried medicinal, used primarily as a laxative. Only when sugar became cheaper and more readily available did this tart plant become a popular food item.

In Lake Wobegone country, popular Minnesotan radio personality and author, Garrison Keillor sings praises of rhubarb nearly every week on the Prairie Home Companion Show. He is fond of telling the audience that “rhubarb pie is the kind of pie that was worth going through the rest of the meal to get it.” Why thousands of radio fans can sing along with his weekly rhubarb pitch, “Mama’s little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb, Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie. Mama’s little baby…

In Little League baseball, I learned to taunt opposing batters from our bench with loud jeers of “Hey batter, batter! What do ya want eggs in your beer?!” We were encouraging them to swing the bat and hopefully miss the ball. I had no clue that the phrase was a popular WWII expression that indicated you wanted a bonus or something from nothing. I simply emulated the ribbing of the older guys. And I also learned that one could get in a “rhubarb” (argument) with the umpire or the opposing team.

While I’m not aware of any major rhubarb between the two countries that once battled in the bloody American Revolution, both Britain and Alaska (USA) take great pride in their rhubarb and both host many festivals revolving around the plant. I shudder to think of face-to-face pitched battles swinging sabres of stout rhubarb stalks at each other.

When Miss Nancy and I began coming up to our Yukon Outpost, I discovered a proper bush ax in the wood shed. The worn and chipped axe head had lost its original wood handle long ago and someone had added an axe prosthesis to rejuvenate it’s cutting days. Now there are two pieces of spot-welded aluminum conduit duct-taped into place. It’s truly a thing of beauty and a testament to my late Great Gramma Schmidt’s adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

The bent and battered handle is sketchy on pine or spruce but it’s perfect for stout rhubarb.


Axe and rhubarb

While my rhubarb crunch is damn good, I get more compliments from the rhubarb chipotle salsa that I make. I got the recipe from Yukoner, Michele Genest. She is an excellent cook and author of The Boreal Gourmet. Her books provide spectacular visual treats as well as culinary treats.

So here is the simple recipe. Enjoy.

Rhubarb Chipotle Salsa

(This is very good with chips, veggies or grilled game)


1 tsp olive oil

1 med. onion

2 cloves of garlic

4 tbsp chipotle pepper in Adobe sauce

4 C fresh or frozen rhubarb*

½ C packed brown sugar

½ tsp salt


In a saucepan (I use a cast iron frying pan.) sauté onion in oil until translucent (7-10 minutes)

Add garlic, stir and sauté 2 min.

Add remaining ingredients and stir and cook about 10 minutes.

Let cool and puree. (I simply mash the cooked rhubarb with a fork.)


The salsa stores well in the fridge for 2 weeks.


Rhubarb in sawbuck 2

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