Rhubarb and History

I am making a rhubarb cake for Sunday dinner. Partly because there was a recipe in this month’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated that I wanted to try; partly because yesterday I saw the tender green leaves of my rhubarb plant poking up to the sun. Time enough to make sure the freezer is empty of last year’s rhubarb.

I’m moving in a familiar rhythm; dumping flour in the bowl on the scale, into the bowl for the cake batter. I am wondering if there is enough sugar in the cake that the kids will eat it. I’m thinking of the roasted veggies I’ll make tonight and occasionally stopping to place another jar of something into the roasting pan so that I can take it with me to Mark’s in a few hours. I’m wondering how Mark is doing at brining the turkey we forgot to defrost on Easter Sunday. Other than the turkey, which is really no more work than any other roast, it’s a standard family meal. I pause and think – this is good. Cooking for those given to me to care about, this is good.

I’m catching up on podcasts. Unreserved begins with the story of 6 Nations Stew, which is corn and beans and salt pork. I laugh at the host using pancetta instead of salt pork while also wincing – I bought pancetta at the Italian Centre yesterday. I still think pancetta is a bit fancy, even if it was on sale. The soup was the easy part of the podcast.

We starved indigenous children at residential schools. I knew this. I knew that we beat them and we starved them and then we buried them in unmarked graves. It is our national sin, a blight which cancels out the sun.

I did not know this: before we starved them to death, when we knew they were starving, we ran experiments. I stare at the rhubarb from last year’s garden, the lemon in my hand that I am zesting. We ran double-blind trials, withholding vitamin C from indigenous children. In the name of science. To develop the Canada food guide I learned about as a kid. Our prairies abound with sources of vitamin C. Never mind the rhubarb, or even the rose hips, we abound with chokecherries and blueberries, raspberries, saskatoons. Their parents knew how to feed their children from the foods on the lands they inhabited.

Just like mine did. While my mum fed me canned raspberry jam, while she froze the rhubarb in our garden; While I zest lemons and place roasted carrots and potatoes in front of children, touching their shoulders softly on my way by;

Foods that came from the land. Nothing fancy, by in large. Just the stuff your mum likely made. The stuff of a family meal. No real science here, just kitchen wisdom. Feed people. Feed people when they are hungry. Feed children good food so that they grow up wise and strong.

I spread my hands out . . . hopeless.

I’ll kiss the kids on their heads tonight when I put their plates in front of me. Katie will lean into me and Matthew will make a face.

This is what reconciliation is. To learn, to try and understand and to let it break you.

In the faint hope that when I put the next crop of rhubarb in my freezer, I will know more. I will know about the children who died for want of vitamin C in rhubarb. I will know more about the people who lived on this land before I started my garden on it.

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1 Response to Rhubarb and History

  1. Powerful thoughts, carefully put. I enjoyed this post; the best I’ve read today. Especially liked the last line … I will know more about the people who lived on this land before I started my garden on it. I might steal that sometime!

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