My mom is the kind of person who, after an extended weekend away in Wisconsin, returns home with gifts—individually wrapped caramels thrown in a white paper bag, a creamer set to match a teapot and, for me, a cookbook plus, by virtue of my confiscating them, a bunch of rhubarb, picked fresh from the garden. For this and many other reasons, I love this woman.
The closest I’ve come to growing my own rhubarb, beyond, I suppose, the minimal green thumb required of yearly tomato plants, is pulling leafy rhubarb stalks out of the ground in someone else’s yard, while being told exactly how not to use the fruit that is actually a vegetable. (The leafy parts are poisonous, but the pink stalks are tall and celery-like, easy to chop and turn into pies and crisps.)
But the important thing is, combined with enough sugar to balance its strong tartness, rhubarb is delicious. I love rhubarb. In fact, if you ask me to come over for a slice of fresh rhubarb anything, anytime, the answer will be yes. Always.
A good slice of rhubarb pie—strawberry rhubarb, in particular—is something I’m powerless against. Hot and fragrant, pulled fresh from the oven, placed in a bowl and topped with vanilla ice cream, rhubarb desserts are one of the best and most delicious things I eat. And that’s essentially what I was after with the crumble I made this weekend, which came to me through Sheryl of Crispy Waffle, who recently posted the link on Twitter.
Sheryl says she didn’t grow up eating rhubarb, which I like about her, since I didn’t either, and she loves it now, thanks in part to good recipes like this one. An adaptation of a recipe from Jamie Oliver, this rhubarb crumble is as simple as combining ingredients, some over the stove and some in a bowl, then layering them together and baking. It’s supposed to emerge golden and crisp, which didn’t exactly work with mine (it never quite browned on top), but the underlying fruit mixture made up for that. What happens to the berries and the rhubarb in the stovetop heat and then in the oven is that they become softer, more compote-like, the perfect complement to the crunchier oatmeal-based topping.
The day after I made this, I came home from a morning of brunch, a doctor’s appointment, antiquing and a stop at Goodwill, and I fixed myself a big bowl of rhubarb crumble, reheated quickly in the microwave and topped by vanilla ice cream. After which, I pulled out the swimsuit I bought in September and have had in storage since, grabbed a beach towel and a book, walked onto a grassy space and soaked up sunshine, the clouds rolling by.
Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble
Adapted from Crispy Waffle
A word on the ingredients: Contrary to what’s instructed below, I used one very large orange, which added a strong citrus smell and flavor to the dessert. While still good, this would be better with less orange, so go with the small fruit. Also, I honestly don’t know how much rhubarb I used because my parents gave me a bag of it, and I used the whole thing. Again, this worked, but you should probably stick to Sheryl’s advice.
1 pound rhubarb, cut into chunks
1 pound strawberries, halved
200 grams (1 cup, packed) brown sugar
zest and juice of one small orange
100 grams (1 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
100 grams (7 Tablespoons) butter, cold and cut into chunks
100 grams (1 1/3 cup) oatmeal
a pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
In a medium saucepan, combine chopped rhubarb, half of the sugar, a pinch of salt and the zest and juice of the small orange. Heat this over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and add the strawberries, if using.
In a large bowl, combine flour, butter and remaining brown sugar in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the oats and toss it through with your fingers.
Spoon the rhubarb mixture into the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish. Sprinkle the oatmeal mixture over the rhubarb. Bake for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the topping is brown and fragrant.
Best served hot and with ice cream.