making traditional rhubarb soup

Kiiseli is a fruit soup from Finland that generations of my family grew up making. This family recipe is drawn from my mother’s best advice, her 1966 Finnish cookbook, a peek through my grandmother’s 1948 cookbook and a family friend’s 1933 cookbook. It’s a recipe you can easily grow in your own garden, too. With all that research, your kiisseli should make a fine old fashioned (yet gluten and dairy-free!) dessert.


The ingredients

We’re going to need:
1 litre water
750 grams chopped rhubarb
200 grams sugar or alternative, to taste
4 tbsp fine potato, tapioca or arrowroot flour

The method

Cook the rhubarb in the water for a short while til softened. Add sugar to taste. (I like to pop up the sweetness with a few drops of stevia, and drop the sugar.) My mother usually adds the strawberries when finished cooking to retain their freshly picked flavour. Dissolve potato flour in a small amount of cool water and then stir the solution very well into the rhubarb mix, heating til it just begins to boil. Take the soup off the heat, and sprinkle a little sugar on top to prevent a skin forming. Serve it cool.

Eating rhubarb soup with ice

Double cream or ice cream is gorgeous with kiiseli. In spring we love combining rhubarb & strawberries, or in the summer, blueberries & raspberries. I love to think of all my relatives, a long time ago, maybe on the farm in Finland, making kiiseli, eating it together round the table. We have pictures of our children as toddlers, painted with rhubarb soup.


Fruit potager

Rhubarb and strawberries are both easy, early perennials to grow in a corner or pot somewhere, we have ours as a pretty understory to a fruit tree, white wisteria, marshmallow plants and hollyhocks. I look forward to the moment our rhubarb is tall enough to twist off stalks for rhubarb soup!

planting blueberries

Luck was on our side when we heard that a blueberry farm in Victoria was changing hands. The new farmers invited local folk to dig up several varieties of mature blueberries and take them home, for just a few dollars each. (Send me a note, Victorians, if you’re reading this in early May, and I can give you their details to get your own. There’s a few left.)


Just the sort of day for a blueberry farm adventure. You’ll want to get at least two or three varieties, as they produce more berries when they have friends.


You can get away with planting, or transplanting, a blueberry most of the year in this coastal climate. Dig down at least the length of a spade, all the way round, leaving a sizeable root ball.


When it has worked loose, get the spade right under and push hard to lift it.


We were so sore from carrying a dozen of these beauties, with all their earth. We lined the cars with tarps, but you could bring a large bag to move a plant this size too.


Best to bring a picnic on this sort of trip, not unlike blueberry-picking journeys in midsummer.


The little blueberry and strawberry plants I’d put in on a sunny spot welcomed a few more plants. There’s Reka, Bluecrop, Duke and Liberty in this mix. I dug quite deeply and widely, mixed in some rich compost and a bit of homemade bone meal, and mulched with pine needles to give them the acidity they like. The heavy spring rains have kept them well watered in. Fingers crossed for a big crop!

We are delighted to have berries put in at the lake. We may always pick at a local farm for preserving, yet it’s such a basic pleasure to eat fresh fruit from our own garden. Do you have a berry patch?

bee sting remedies

Stung! On our blueberrying trip, my tall girl’s little hand scared a stinging creature in a berry bush. Ouch. Whatever do you do?


Why, put a copper penny on it, of course. It works a charm. (Now, I’m sure I needn’t tell you it is best to clean both hand and penny, after checking to remove a stinger, and if you are allergic, disregard this entirely. Tongue swelling up? Get help!)

Seeing as this country is phasing out the copper penny, one might not find this remedy easily to hand in future. In that case, whip up some sodium bicarbonate or epsom salt with a bit of water to make a paste to apply; take a dose of homeopathic Apis Mellifica; chew the wild herb plantain, some basil, parsley or bee balm (oh right! obviously!) and apply; slice some garlic or onion and rub on the sting; splash on a bit of apple cider vinegar or a drop of lavender oil; you might even try prepared mustard, meat tenderiser, or toothpaste. Still, if you’re out in a field of blueberry bushes and nowhere near a kitchen, a penny might be just the bee sting remedy you need.

Thanks to my great friend Kimberly for this tip. It isn’t necessary to bring a wise woman with you on all adventures but it does make things easier.


One fine morning, we rose early (taking a break from that prolonged, distracting state that we call moving house) and headed to the farm with our buckets, hats and snacks.


A summer isn’t right without a few trips to the local farms, strawberrying, raspberrying. I feel rooted and stable when I’m eating food we’ve gathered ourselves, and I see the children are so content.


We are so lucky to know a farm that uses organic practices. (If you’re on the southern part of Vancouver Island, visit Nicholas Farm, they’re wonderful, I’m so grateful to live nearby.) Not a chemical to worry us, and such beautiful rows of heavy fruit.


Be sure to bring your young blueberriers with you. They are nimble and close to the little bushes, and if you ply them with sandwiches they may pick quite a heap.


My small one shouts “Jackpot!” upon finding gigantic berries. Extraordinary things. Six of us picked 120 pounds of gorgeous fruit in a short morning on the farm.


Berries to cook into jam or kiiseli or tarts; to dry, to sink in a jar of gin, to freeze. I could live on the beauties. Soon we’ll plant our own little patch and go blueberrying at the lakeside cottage.

plum picking

One year as we patiently awaited beautifully tree-ripened plums, a cheeky young bear stole into the tree and ate every last plum. He cracked branches, being neither a small nor a careful bear, and he lounged around in the sunny garden long after the larceny. Every year since, we make sure to beat the bears to the plums. The fruit will finish ripening in a bowl in the window.


Little girls are a good size to slip between the leaves for plum-picking without any branch-cracking or fruit-bruising. They do eat more than their share of plums, mind you.


I’ve always got high hopes for all the things I could make with the plums. Yet in all but the most bumper-croppish years, they get eaten up while they’re fresh.

plums and berries

If you’ve got an abundance of plums in these last days of summer, or wild blackberries (which rarely get through our door without being plunged into whipped cream and devoured) get the quarterly, out this week. It includes a very simple recipe for preserving fruit through winter. Even if life has been too much of a whirl for jams and jellies, you’ll feel industrious and a little bit triumphant over this one – pretty good for ten minutes work.