Wild city // Plant and eat pleasure

The older I get, the more I like the perennial plant, and not primarily for the obvious reason, that by coming back it saves me the work of having to replace it. The thing about perennials is that they go away and come back. I just get such a kick out of seeing this. They represent a cycle completed and begun again. They are infused with a renewing energy. And maybe, for me, a person with loss issues, to see the plant return tends to something in my heart. It is instructive and heartening to experience losses that are not permanent.


A perennial plant that we can eat has yet another dimension. You get not just reassurance when it pops up in the spring, but you also get a ritual meal out of the deal. My husband and I grow French sorrel, a lemony herb with broad leaves. It over-winters here if you tuck it in with a little mulch. (In late October I simply pile dead leaves over it.)


The plant comes up early and each year, one day in May, we cook a Melissa Clark recipe from The New York Times, and than we lap it up. 


A second perennial plant that we grow at our house, and that ends up in a special dish, is rhubarb. I like the way rhubarb all but screams, “Rural Minnesota!” I’d like to be able to say that what follows is my rural Minnesota grandmother’s recipe, but it isn’t. It is Julia Klatt Singer’s grandmother’s recipe. I came across it in Mix, a co-op newsletter. This cake is rich and delicious. You know whoever made it loves you.



Grandmother’s Rhubarb Cake




1 1/2 c. finely diced rhubarb

1/2 c. butter

1/2 c. brown sugar

1 egg

1 c. buttermilk

1 t. baking soda

2 c. flour

2 t. vanilla

1/2 c. white sugar

1 T. cinnamon




Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake pan. 


Pour a cup of boiling water over rhubarb and set aside to drain.


Cream together butter, brown sugar, and egg. Add buttermilk.


Combine baking soda and flour, and add to mixture, stirring well. Fold in drained rhubarb and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. 


Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over cake. Bake until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 min.  


Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at the Loft Literary Center.