posted Tue, 22 Aug 2006
SH has never eaten rhubarb.
I feel so sorry for those who have never had rhubarb pie. Not sorry enough to share any of mine with them. Just a little sorry.
I could understand this if he had lived his entire life in The South, where rhubarb is not to be found naturally, but he has been in Milwaukee for four years now. Rhubarb is one of the heralds of spring in the upper Midwest. How could he have avoided it for so long?
Rhubarb a mystery to southerners, though. When I can find it in my grocery store in Memphis, it costs an arm and a leg and the cashier never knows what it is. She regards it with great suspicion and almost always has to do a price check. Often, younger cashiers have to check fresh beets, rutabagas or turnips because they don’t know what they are, so we are talking vast oceans – the Pacific – of ignorance here.
SH has no excuses, especially for one who claims to be such a gourmand. Or is it gourmet? I can never keep those two straight. Anyhow, he is one of those food and wine snobs who is always sniffing the wine and talking about “bouquet” and “tannins” and all that stuff that I don’t care about because I don’t even like wine and all I care about food is if it tastes good and isn’t slimy. He even eats tripe. Tripe! Yet he has not tasted rhubarb. What’s up with that?
On Sunday, we went to the farmers’ market downtown. I spied bunches of lovely, lovely rosy rhubarb. I grabbed some and told him I was going to make rhubarb bars so he would finally taste heaven. Normally, I would not insist that he try something new and I’m not trying to convert any of you out there. Don’t eat rhubarb! Don’t! It leaves more for the rest of us! But I haven’t been able to afford it at home and this is the only way I’m going to get any this year.
I told the vendor about not being able to get rhubarb in Memphis. “Course, we’ve been looking for some okra here and haven’t been able to find it,” I said, as I waved my Martha Stewart Living Quick Okra Pickles recipe at him.
“I don’t have any okra, but my uncle sells it at the farmers’ market up in [whatever] neighborhood.” His voice dropped a little as he named the neighborhood.
“Where’s that?” I asked innocently.
“It’s more of an [African-American] neighborhood,” he whispered.
I shrugged. Made sense to me. Okra would be more of a soul food up north. What was funny was that he felt so uncomfortable saying the words out loud – as if there were something shameful in the profiling of certain ethnic groups by food. In one of the last Woody Allen movies I saw – before he turned into a quasi-incestuous sleazeball, he has a scene where his mother (I think this was in “Radio Days”) drops her voice to a whisper every time she says, “cancer,” as if by not saying it out loud, she somehow robs it of its power to harm.
Except there is nothing wrong with the truth that okra is a southern food and in Milwaukee, it’s the people who moved here from the South – mostly black – who eat it. Kinda like it’s only the [Norwegians] who are nutty enough to eat lutefisk. Let’s see – let's do some more ethnic food profiling. [Koreans] eat kimchee. [Jews] eat matzo. Oh dear! Am I a bigot for writing these things?
(On a related note, on the walking tour SH and I took on Saturday, the guide repeatedly referred to the “Yankees” who had moved here in the 1800s. To a Wisconsinite, a Yankee must be anyone from back East. But to a Southerner, a Yankee is anyone above the Mason-Dixon line.)
As soon as the guy told us where to find the okra, the lightbulb lit up over our heads. Of course! In Milwaukee, okra would be an ethnic food! It’s not like Memphis, where it’s a staple to be found in every grocery store. We were also seeking ingredients for an Asian salad – and Asians also eat okra – so we pointed the car to an Asian neighborhood and found everything we had been seeking and more. Well, everything but the okra, but close enough.
The end of the line
11 months ago