Monday, June 04, 2012

Rhubarb Round-Up

So, it’s June, which is just about the jaw-crampingly best news I can think of, because rhubarb is
in the house

Actually, it’s behind the house, but still. I thought I’d better do a little round-up of Rhubarb Greatest Hits:

There’s the straight-up Rhubarb Crumble, which ran in O magazine, and which I love because it does not cave to the pressure of adding strawberries to everything rhubarb. Buttery, brown-sugary, achingly tart and sweet, one single clean, good flavor.

On the website it says, "Photo courtesy of Catherine Newman," which is generous, because I did not take this photograph. I wish I had that cool spoon, thought!
Then there’s the Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble, which precisely caves to the pressure of adding strawberries to everything rhubarb. Oh, but it is so good, and the strawberries are coming in now, too, all ruby gorgeousness, so who can resist?

Brace yourself. Because, this?

Real men bake crumble.
This is the strawberry-rhubarb crumble that Michael made last night, on his very own, while I was at a baby shower. I came home and he was already taking it out of the oven! He had picked the rhubarb and everything. It was as perfectly fantastic as any crumble I’ve ever eaten, and I say that as the reigning Crumble Queen. You really can teach an old dog new tricks! (Birdy was completing proverbs for a friend of mine—proverbs she didn’t know and was just supposed to guess at—and she wrote “to not be so droopy-looking” to conclude “You can’t teach an old dog_______”)

Oh gosh, and this, Strawberry-Rhubarb Pudding Cake, which I made, like, every single night last June. Why have I not made it yet this year? What was I thinking?

. . . drooling. . .
And instead of giving you something totally new—something cool, like a Rollicking Ruby Rhubarbtini—well, I’m going to reinvent the rhubarb crumb bar. As you surely understand, if you’ve been with me on this journey, I have become a person who less and less wants to be using white flour, and so even my most beloved recipes are getting roughed up a little. This one, though—you won’t even notice it, the whole-wheat flour, not really. It just adds a little grit, a little malty sweetness. The bars are still oaty-butterscotchy-rhubarby heaven, you'll see. Report back, please! 

Rhubarb Crumb Bars
Serves 12
Active time: 20 minutes; total time 1 hour and 10 minutes.

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat or whole-spelt flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 cup butter (2 sticks; I use salted), sliced into small pieces
6 cups sliced rhubarb (about 2 pounds before trimming and cleaning)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the oven to 400 and heavily grease a lasagna-sized (11- by 7-inch) baking dish. I confess to using that unholy Pam baking spray--the kind that comes out of the can like foaming extraterrestrial phlegm but really keeps everything from sticking.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flours, oats, brown sugar, and salt. Now add the pieces of butter and toss to coat them with the flour mixture, then use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. This is a messy but not unpleasant job: you'll be lifting handfuls of the mixture up out of the bowl, then gently letting it fall through your fingertips as you rub it together. Eventually, you'll have a bowl full of pebbly crumbs, which is what you're going for.

Reserve a heaping cup of crumbs, and press the remaining crumbs into the baking dish, patting them down firmly to form a bottom crust. Spread the sliced rhubarb evenly over the crust. Now, here's a weird step that was in multiple recipes, and so I tried it, even though normally I would toss the sliced rhubarb with flour and sugar instead of doing anything so strange as creating a separate syrup: in a small saucepan combine the white sugar and cornstarch; stir in the water and cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it turns clear and thickens slightly--around five minutes. It will foam up and it will never get especially thick, but this seems to be okay. Remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and pour it evenly over the rhubarb. Sprinkle with the reserved crumbs and bake the pan for ten minutes at 400 before turning the temperature down to 325 and baking for another 40 minutes. Serve in squares, warm or at room temperature, with or without whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


  1. Still laughing over "you can't teach an old dog to not be so droopy looking." Alas, it is probably true.

  2. This is one of my favorites of all of your recipes. Before this recipe, I didn't think I liked rhubarb. Silly me.

  3. Angela2:24 PM

    Oh, sigh. I wish MY family loved the rhubarbly rhubarbitude that is rhubarb. Fresh from the garden, or even stored in the fridge until it is as droopy-looking as an old dog. Rhubarb rhules.

  4. Here in Southern California, we have access to local fruit pretty much year around. (Our blueberry bushes are fruiting now.) It's hard to get myself to try the rhubarb recipes, rather than just using the fruit. But I'm open to convincing....

  5. Anonymous4:06 PM

    I actually made this recipe- I googled you and rhubarb- last week- you read my mind. It was delicious.

  6. Give me rhubarb straight up every time. Tried a rhubarb crisp recipe a couple weeks ago and was quite unhappy with it. This one looks absolutely perfect.

  7. I've actually never had rhubarb. This will be my summer of trying rhubarb. Plus, I really like to say rhubarb.

  8. Ah rhubarb...reminds me of Grandma. I made your pudding cake. But I really have to ask about the shirt that Michael is wearing. My husband would love one like it and I'm wondering if by chance I might be able to find it online somewhere.

    1. oh, amc, thank you for asking! it's a hockey/running combo stencil that I made him for his birthday, because those are his two big sports. Both images are pretty widely available on-line, and I did them with freezer-paper stencils (if you google, there are a million places you can find out how to do this--I think I've even written about it somewhere or other. FamilyFun?). Is that helpful or annoying?

    2. Only slightly annoying in the sense that I can't lazily click and have it appear conveniently appear just in time for Father's Day. Helpful in that it might spur a project. Maybe you should take it to Etsy. :)

      Funny that this is the second time that a t-shirt in the background of your photos has caught my eye, but I know exactly where to get Ted Drewe's garb!

  9. I love rhubarb desserts but the real reason I came here was to ask you if you have a favorite strategy game that is sort of "communal" rather than competitive? My Birdy equivalent loves strategy but hates losing so much so that he can get mad playing a game by himself (which he does routinely as the rest of the family declines to play games that could end in being yelled at if they win). We have a game called "Don't Wake the Grump" which he loved when he was younger because the game is strategic but the players have a shared goal (not to wake the grump before absconding with his treasure) but I'd like something for older players and so I am turning to you as a game guru!

    1. Anne, I see that Anonymous, below, has offered the suggestion of Pandemic, which is--coincidentally!--the next game our family is going to buy with our Game Jar money (the game jar is where we put money if the kids babysit themselves). I will report back--or you do! But also, Forbidden Island is a good cooperative strategy game.

  10. Anonymous11:33 AM

    Anne, we play Pandemic, great if you don't find the diseases stressful (my husband does!)

    1. Thanks!!

    2. Angela4:58 PM

      You're welcome! Actually I'm not anonymous at all, but it was too much effort to press all those extra buttons on the Kindle I was whiling my time away with. My 7-year-old son loves it, as does my scientist self, but my husband gets really upset about all the poor people who are in danger of catching Blue or Black or the Dreaded Yellow. Actually he's a scientist too. Maybe it sounds like work gone wrong???

    3. Thanks to both of you. We bought Forbidden Island and played it over and over again on vacation. I am a complete convert to cooperative games. Pandemic sounds good and we will buy that one next!

  11. Ah, perfect timing -- I didn't want to pester you but I have a question about the rhubarb bars. I've made them twice recently and both times they came out of the oven really soupy, not bar-like at all. The first time I was letting them sit overnight before delivering them to friends, and I think they may have firmed up some in the meantime (they loved them regardless), but this last time we just ate them soupy -- like a crumble with way more crumbs than usual. They're delicious anyway, but I'm sort of baffled as to what I'm doing wrong.

    Here's one possibility: I haven't been measuring my rhubarb, just chopping up four large stalks. I think, if anything, that adds up to a bit less than 6 cups, so I thought that would help with the soupy issue, but maybe I'm wrong? Maybe more rhubarb=less soupy?

    Anyway, main point is that I'm grateful to have been turned on to the insane deliciousness of rhubarb -- especially here in New England, where it feels like we have to wait so long for the real summery food to start coming in.

    1. Cathy, I think that's not nearly enough rhubarb--that's my best guess. Try measuring it, because if there's not enough, then I think there's nowhere for that syrup to go. I'm so sorry you're having trouble with the recipe, though!

    2. Oh, no need to apologize -- what's more annoying than a cook who complains about a recipe she isn't actually following? So thanks for confirming my suspicions -- I'll make sure I have a full six cups next time!

  12. Anonymous10:26 PM

    Just saw this and thought of you...
    -misplaced mama

  13. I'm sure you rhubarb lovers have all seen this, but in case you haven't....

    Behold! The Rhubarb Compendium! Hundreds (!) of rhubarb recipes, plus lots of nerdy / useful / interesting rhubarb information.