Rhubarb and Custard
Rhubarb and Custard was a staple summer dessert at my grandparent’s house in Liverpool. Despite the depleted avenue, lined with military-style tree stumps, marking the remains of dog littered roots where once Dutch Elm trees had towered, slender and lofty offering dappled shade along this artery into the city, I have fond memories of the backdoor allotments alive and overflowing with the runner beans, greenhouses bursting with tomatoes. For me, the most memorable dessert delivering vegetable (of all things…) were the large umbrella stems of Rhubarb.
I grew up here, away from my parents. My grandad took care of me and like his flowers, plants and vegetables, helped me sprout shoots of curiosity, develop and grow. I remember lying on my back, looking up being fanned by the sprawling green leaves on the end of ruby rich stems, my grandad would pass me his whittling knife and I’d slice through the stringy stem until we had at least 4 long lengths.
There was nothing fancy about the way he prepared our food in the small 2 x 2 council house kitchen. Chopped & stewed in syrupy sugar, spooned on top of deep dishes of cold custard, sat on the concrete back-step, back door ajar, looking out onto this postage stamp piece of paradise. No words necessary.
Today, like my Grandad, even the stumps of those trees are no longer present. An array of brightly coloured plastic bins stand to attention, just like the trees used to only without beauty, plastic overflowing with plastic, decay and the remnants of yesterdays microwave dinners washed down with bargain booze bottles and cheap larger cans. Apart from the constant vibrant buzz of impatient traffic, the colour seems to have leeched out, gardens, concreted and tiled over with only weeds pushing through the cracks, reminders of the life that once was, below.
If I stand on this Liverpool dual carriageway, close to the house and the life that once was, eyes closed, I can only feel the dappled flickering light through the leaves of the trees on my face, the warmth of that cold concrete step and the bittersweet waft of stewed rhubarb.
In honour of my Grandad, my tarted uptake on those familiar ingredients and fond memories – here’s to you!