However, once sugar became less expensive in the 1800s, someone discovered that the stalks – when sufficiently sweetened – made a fine pie, pudding and jam. Apparently, this transpired in England. A taste for sweet rhubarb desserts spread to Scandinavia and northern Europe.
The first pilgrims brought rhubarb to North America, where it was known as the pie plant. Eventually, settlers from eastern Canada and the United States brought rhubarb here, where it was welcomed as one of the first "fruits" of spring.
In 1902, Hans and Kristiane Lien packed everything they owned into a rail car (including cattle chickens and a team of horses) and moved from North Dakota to a homestead near Weldon, east of Prince Albert.They had originally immigrated from Norway in 1893, worked hard but couldn't afford land in the United States. A free homestead in Canada was the answer to their dreams.
However, the move didn't go smoothly. The South Saskatchewan River was so high they could not cross it and so they spent a couple weeks living in a tent, tending their livestock and four little children, before reaching their farm.
Did they bring the "pie plant" with them? They certainly had a taste for rhubarb. This recipe for rhubarb pudding, written in Norwegian, was found among the keepsakes of Hans and Kristian's son and sent to me by their granddaughter, Irene Hagel of Choiceland.
1 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
4 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
1 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix flour and brown sugar. Rub in butter until blended. Put rhubarb in a buttered baking dish. Mix white sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over rhubarb. Press flour mixture over top and bake at 325F for 45 minutes. Serve warm or cold.
Here's the original recipe as recorded in Kristiane's mix of Norwegian and English:
Bland godt 1 kop mel og 1/4 kop brunt sucker.
Rub ind 1/2 kop smor.
Put rhubarb ind i en smurt dish.
Og dros med en kop huidt sukken some har 1/4 teaspoon kanel.
Nu press over rhubarb deigen og bak i en.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)