Rhubarb season always reminds me of an elderly neighbor when I was a child. I grew up in central Minnesota, about a hour north of Minneapolis. Yes, Lake Wobegon country. Minnie Reimann was my family’s go-to person for advice on gardening and local lore.
She never married and spent all of her 88 years on her family farm. Born and raised there, Minnie often reminded us that she’d never spent a night away from home.
I don’t remember that she ever wore a dress. Her white hair was always tucked under a net, the kind cafeteria workers wear. Her only indoor plumbing was the kitchen sink.
My grandparents lived hours away, but our grandmotherly Minnie was just a few minutes by car, even shorter if you cut through the woods.
Retired from farming and the only surviving member of her family, Minnie raised chickens and spent most of the non-winter months in her garden. My mom bought a dozen eggs, or two, every week. She was our “Egg Lady”. My sister and I often tagged along on weekends and during summer vacation. We adored the hens and her garden tours. But it was more than just eggs. In her own quiet way, Minnie loved visitors. In my mind I can still see Minnie’s twinkling eyes and hear her laughter.
It was a Saturday morning in early May at Minnie’s that I got my first taste of her favorite rhubarb recipe. Over local news and gossip at the kitchen table, we savored warm rhubarb coffeecake, tart and sweet with a hint of cinnamon.
For me, many foods bring back memories. When I bite into this cake, I think of her hens, the garden and warm kitchen. And, oh, how she’d laugh, knowing I’m sharing her recipe with the North Country. Enjoy!
Minnie’s Rhubarb Coffeecake
½ cup shortening, or butter
1 ½ cup brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 cups flour
2 cups diced rhubarb
Cream shortening, sugar and egg. Add dry ingredients with milk. Add rhubarb. Spread into a 9 x 13 greased pan.
Topping: ½ cup sugar, 1 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp cinnamon. Sprinkle over batter and bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.