Last night, I dreamed of lilacs. When I woke up, I realized it was a dream of home—of lying in Mom’s bed while she read and I drifted off to sleep on top of her off-white chenille bed spread, with the lilac bush outside the open bedroom window. Its scent still lulls me.
When my father still lived with us, our yard was a resplendent, magical place. Rhubarb sprouted freely, along with wild onions and wild blackberries, which were at the very edge of our property. Huge
oak trees dotted our front and back yards. A delicate red-leaf Japanese maple stood on one side of our mobile home, and the lilac bush on the other side. I played under huge hydrangeas, which were planted near our rusty swing set. I spent long summer afternoons there in its shade with my paper dolls.
My first memory of the rhubarb is my father yanking a stalk out of the ground, taking a bite, then inviting me to do so. “EWWWWW!” I said and spit it out onto the grass.
I hated the taste, and didn’t take another bite until years later, while “researching” for my book about the famous Mrs. Rowe. I found that strawberries, heaps of white sugar, and hardy crust more than helped to make rhubarb tastier.
Whether as a girl in Pennsylvania surveying the landscape, or as the woman I am now stalking the farmer’s markets for batches of rhubarb and tending my strawberry patch, one of my seasonal markers has always been rhubarb. What about you? Is there a plant or a certain dish you associate with spring?
And how about these photos? Courtesy of Jen Causey. You can check out her gorgeous pictures at
This pie recipe was included in my first book Mrs.
Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of recipes from the Shenandoah Valley (Ten Speed Press, 2006). It was not included in Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies because we chose to repeat
only three of her most iconic pies from the first book—chocolate, coconut, and mincemeat.
But this pie has been a local favorite for generations.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cups diced rhubarb stems
1 cup sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (for
brushing over the crust)
Preheat the over to 400.
Combine the sugar, flour, salt, and nutmeg. Stir
well. Then stir in the strawberries and rhubarb and LET SIT for 20 minutes.
Pour the filling into your UNBAKED pie crust and dot with the pieces of butter.
Then put your top crust on, crimp. cut several vents in it and bake for 40 to
50 minutes–or until golden brown. After you take it out of the oven, brush
with the melted butter. Let it cool slightly. But it’s best served warm.