Alaska Gardening

Rhubarb – “The story of that alien plant.”


When I lived in Washington, I had a huge garden. I loved that garden. It brought me much pleasure. I looked forward to spring to see what would pop up from last year’s seeds that I had just let drop anywhere. The standing rule in my garden was NO ONE weeded until I knew exactly what it was. I loved my rototiller and really enjoyed spreading the seeds everywhere in the freshly turned soil. I just never knew what was going to grow or where for that matter. One year I planted tomatoes down the center and the next year they were in a far corner. Same with radishes and lettuce. It was random and fun.

But the one thing I really hated was “THAT” plant. You know the one. It takes over the garden like a weed and you just can’t control it. For me, it was rhubarb. The bane of my gardening experience. I would hack at it with my spade and try to till it out. Nothing worked. Little did I know I was only making it stronger. I knew nothing of this plant. Not how to cook it, what to do with it, or even how to use it for landscaping. No one in my family had ever really used it. Except for boiled down hard and sugared up so much it made your teeth hurt.

So, flash forward a few years later …

We bought a piece of recreational property on Shell Lake in Alaska and my husband was visiting the owner of the lodge nearby. He showed me a picture of a large beautiful plant with gigantic stalks. It was huge. I asked what it was and he said, “rhubarb.” I thought, Ours doesn’t look like that! WOW! I was impressed.

Again, flash forward a few more years and I live in Alaska. A friend introduces me to the rhubarb at Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm. She makes a strawberry rhubarb pie and I am instantly in love with this alien plant. What took me so long? Now I have an addiction to rhubarb. I love to make crumbles and pies and preserves and chutneys. Rhubarb is very versatile and a lovely plant to boot. My neighbor uses hers for landscaping around her house. I wish I had developed this love of my alien plant earlier, but like all good things, sometimes you just need a shove in the right direction.

Funny thing though, now that I live here, I can’t get mine to grow … how about that, huh?



Chelle’s Rhubarb Chutney


2 quarts chopped rhubarb, about 1/2โ€™โ€™ diced

1 ยฝ cups raisins (I like golden but either are good)

1 cup chopped onion

3 ยฝ cups brown sugar, either dark or light

1/2 cups cider vinegar

1 t. each: allspice, cinnamon, ginger, salt

1 t. chili paste, (like sambal olek) if desired


In a large pot add rhubarb, raisins, onions, sugar and vinegar.

Over medium heat, simmer until thick. This may take some time as you donโ€™t want the mixture to burn. Stir often so it doesnโ€™t stick.

When it has started to thicken, add the spices and the chili paste (if using). Cook for a few minutes longer. At this point check for the sweetness and spiciness of the chutney. Add more chili paste or a tablespoon of brown sugar if needed. I find the sugar just right but like mine a bit hotter.

Ladle the hot chutney into hot jars, leaving about a 1/4โ€ headspace. Put the lids and rings on the jar and set it right away into the boiling water canner. Process for 15 minutes.


Story & Recipe by Chelle MacKenzie

Categories: Alaska Gardening

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