Rhubarb means spring has arrived

Jerry Apps
It wasn't spring on the Apps' farmstead until dad carried in an armful of fresh cut rhubarb.

It’s wasn’t the first robin spotted on the partially snow-covered yard, not the first flock of Canada geese winging north, not even the first dandelion showing its yellow face on the south side of our old farm house. None of these impressed my dad that spring had arrived. It was when rhubarb was ready for eating—that’s when spring had finally made it to our farm.

First thing that dad did when the rhubarb stalks had grown a bit was to cut an armful and dump it on the big kitchen table. “Time to make some rhubarb sauce,” he would say with a big grin on his face. I absolutely hated rhubarb sauce. My brothers didn’t like it either. But Pa was firm. “You’ve got to cleanse your system from winter,” he said. Whatever that meant.

So we ate rhubarb sauce. In case you might want to “cleanse your system from winter,” here’s my mother’s recipe.

Rhubarb Sauce

3-4 cups of chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup of water or less

Put rhubarb pieces in a medium cooking pot. The sauce will bubble while cooking, so be sure your pot is big enough. Add the sugar and a bit of water to help the sauce start cooking. Start over a medium heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer as soon as it begins to bubble or boil. Keep uncovered and stir frequently so the sauce doesn’t stick to the pot. Let simmer until the rhubarb cooks down, about 25 minutes. Let cool, and then refrigerate.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: It is spring when rhubarb once more appears.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to