FFWD – Roasted Rhubarb

Rhubarb in a field of sugar, with a partly zested lemon and (unsurprisingly) a zester.

It’s not the complicated recipes that evoke sensory memories for me, though I have plenty of other memories about those dishes. My mother’s French Onion soup is inextricably linked with Hayley Mills and The Moon-Spinners, because she once made it for us on a Mother and daughters movie night. Coq au Vin and Angel Food Cake bring to mind special occasions with Tante Leona, my mother’s aunt. Pâte de Cochon and tourtière mean Christmas. But these are associative memories, not strongly sensory.

The memories that transport me to particular periods of my life, rather than specific events, are triggered by simple aromas. Caramelizing sugar brings me back to early childhood, my mother making sucre à la crème on the stovetop. Roasting garlic and lemon are associated with my university years, when my idea of sophisticated home cuisine was 40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken. Rhubarb cooking down is the scent of early summer, reminding me of the building excitement as the school year neared its end. Rhubarb found its way into puffs, crisps and pies, but one of the first things my mother always did with it was to cook some down on the stove with sugar. It would often end up served over ice cream, usually on a hot June day.

Partly roasted rhubard sitting in a melted sugar bath.

We’ve not had many hot days this month, but this afternoon I evoked the memory of warm days with this week’s French Fridays recipe. Instead of cooking it down slowly on the stove, though, this recipe calls for chunks of rhubarb to be tossed with sugar and freshly grated lemon zest (I added a pinch of cinnamon, too) and then roasted in the oven. This method requires almost no attention – no frequent stirring and temperature checks and leaves the pieces of rhubarb soft, infused with the flavour of the sugar. Cooking rhubarb on the stovetop breaks down its fibres, incorporating the sugar syrup, but this method leaves the rhubarb intact, surrounded by a sugary sauce. It’s a lovely variation and just as good with ice cream as the original.

Roasted rhubarb, still warm and melting the ice cream it's accompanying.

What are some of the things that trigger sensory memories for you? Scents, sounds, colours? I’d love to hear.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Roasted Rhubarb

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26 thoughts on “FFWD – Roasted Rhubarb

  1. It’s so sweet reading about how certain aromas bring you back to certain periods in your life. I haven’t cooked with rhubard before but I think it will always remind me of the Anna Olson’s show ‘Sugar’ as that’s where I first heard of rhubard. 🙂

      1. I had to check my post so many times for the same error! I’ve never seen her show, but had a co-worker who raved about her recipes. I’m going to have to see if she has any books I can check out.

  2. What a lovely story of various aromas. It so nice to associate them with different memories. During
    World War 2, my Mom had a victory garden where she grew rhubarb. I did not eat much fruit when I was young
    so I never it even though she cooked it many different ways. This was Tricia and my own first attempt
    cooking it and were quite surprised. Definitely will do this one again. Great photos.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story of the victory garden, Nana. I love hearing about people’s memories. Glad you liked the rhubarb! I’m looking forward to doing it again before the rhubarb’s done for the season.

  3. Oh, I think cinnamon was a fabulous idea…it would have reminded me of my mom’s rhubarb pie! She also stewed it on the stove top…but I think I like the roasting even better 🙂 And SO good on ice cream~

  4. That top photo is fantastic! Thanks for sharing your food memories. I feel like food memories are so lasting because they are about the context it reminds about, not just the flavors remembered. I cook so differently than my mother, though I still am reminded of her cooking and my childhood by dishes she never made that have a similar smell or taste.

    1. Thanks, Betsy! I agree that it’s the context that makes those memories stick with you. I also love how similarity is enough to trigger memories, too. It’s like you’re carrying on a tradition, even though you cook differently than your mother.

  5. Beautiful descriptions of memories associated with the aromas of seasonal foods, rhubarb reminds me of our neighbors across the street growing up because that is my earliest memory of small bowls of stewed rhubarb served with dinner. I come from a family of good cooks so I have many good food memories, it sounds like you did too;-)

    1. Thanks, Patty. Your neighbours sound like they were great.

      I do come from a family of good cooks – it makes such a difference! I’ve had friends who didn’t grow up with good food traditions and learning to cook and develop their palates could be a real struggle for them.

  6. It’s so true, smells bring back the most vivid childhood memories…I know my children will forever associate the smell of frying garlic with my kitchen, and the smell of chicken cooking on the grill brings me right back to my days waiting in the backyard for my dad to finish cooking dinner on hot July evenings in the Midwest.

    Wonderfully well written post!

    1. Thanks so much! It must mean a lot to know that you’re building memories with your children in the same way your parents did with you.

  7. I loved reading about your memories. This is such a lovely post. Rhubarb is also associated with my wonderful childhood memories that include my grandma and my great-grandma. I made many pies this week for a party and the rhubarb ones were the most commented on and brought the most excitement…out of 17 varieties. I found that to be very interesting. All the comments related to childhood memories. I always enjoy your post and beautiful photos.

    1. Thanks, Krissy. That’s wonderful that your memories around rhubarb stretch back so many generations.

      You are a powerhouse of a cook! 17 varieties – wow!

    1. I wonder if it’s because it’s sort of an old-fashioned plant and the recipes tend to reach back farther than most?

  8. I love The Moon Spinners! I think it is so underrated. I think I associate the taste in food with memories – especially those that have to do with my mother’s cooking. Some things might not look the same, but once they hit my mouth, I’m there.

    1. That’s great that you remember it, too! I remember really loving it.

      It’s amazing how flavours bring you back, even when the dishes might not be the same.

  9. I just wanted to thank everyone again for sharing their food memories in the comments. It’s interesting to hear about everyone’s experiences and to think about how wrapped up our senses are with our experiences.

  10. Teresa,
    My mother cooked down batches and batches of rhubarb, sometimes with strawberries at the same time. I so enjoyed this recipe.

    Sweet yeast bread, the smell fills the house and means Christmas to me.

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