‘Tis the season to process rhubarb like crazy!
A mild winter and a wet spring have combined to give us an early start to the growing season in our part of the world. It’s late May, but looks like late June out there: the daylilies are hours from blooming, the gladioli are two feet tall, and the Columbine have been in flower for a couple of weeks. Likewise, the rhubarb stems are thick, very high, and rosy, so I’ve been trying to keep it picked so the bottom-most stems don’t rot from lack of light and space.
I compared notes with some Irish gardeners I know, and heard tales of woe and wet weather, so I gather we’re lucky to be enjoying fine growing weather — in fairness, we often get frost into mid-May, so this year is unusual. I’ve always consider rhubarb a typical staple of Irish gardens, as my parents and grandparents grew it when we were kids, and rhubarb crumbles were a sure taste of summer.
Rhubarb is one of the simplest fruits/vegetables (the jury seems to be out on where rhubarb stands — grown like a vegetable, served as a fruit) to grow, but people seem to not know what to do with it. I’ve introduced many to its distinctive tartness over the years. I remember our family grew it in a bed by a hedge, and the mossy grass had taken over the ground so that my father mowed right up to the stalks themselves. It was a very easy plant to care for, and I doubt they even bothered to divide it every few years.
Irish Rhubarb/Strawberry Crumble Recipe
This is my favorite rhubarb recipe, and one that I’ve amended over the years to incorporate local ingredients.
1.5 – 2 lbs of stewed rhubarb
1.5-2 lbs of strawberries (fresh or frozen)
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup wholewheat flour
¾ cup rolled oats
½ cup walnuts or pecans (chopped fine)
1 stick of butter
The filling is simple: in a pie dish or small roasting pan (depending on how large a crumble you need) mix up the stewed rhubarb and strawberries. To my taste, a 50/50 ratio of rhubarb to strawberries should make the crumble sweet enough, others may want to add sugar to cut the tartness (but no more than ¼ cup).
* You can replace strawberries with any other sweet fruit (whatever’s in season).
A traditional Irish crumble usually has a pastry pie shell on the bottom and is topped with the crumbly mixture. However, somewhere in the anti-carb ‘90s I stopped including the pastry bottom, and now I just think of it as needless calories. The crumble topping is simply equal parts granulated sugar, steel-cut oats, whatever kind of flour you like, and butter. Bring the butter to room temp, and rub it into the combined sugar/flour mixture until the mix crumbles nicely between the fingers. (If you have a thick dough, you’ve used too much butter. Cut with equal parts sugar and flour until it crumbles nicely.) Apologies that this isn’t more precise, but the best Irish recipes are always “a bit of this, and the bit of that…” “How much, Mum?” “Ah, sure you know yourself.”
My other non-traditional innovation is to add about ½ cup finely chopped walnuts (or pecans if you have them — we’re in the US South, so they’re plentiful) to the crumble topping. It tastes great, and adds some protein.
Spread the crumble topping over the fruit, make a small “well” or two to allow the juices to bubble up, and cook in a pre-heated over for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees F (or until the crumble topping starts to brown).
Serve with custard or ice cream.
How to Stew Rhubarb
Wash and chop the stems. Discard the bottom two inches and the leaves, as these are inedible (the leaves are poisonous, containing oxalic acid). Add a tiny bit of water to prevent the rhubarb sticking to the bottom of a thick-bottomed saucepan, but not much as the stems contain plenty of water, which will be released as they cook. How long and how much you stew them depends on personal taste. I like my rhubarb to remain chunky, but most people seem to prefer a uniform apple-sauce like consistency, so I aim for something mid-way between these extremes.
Stir often to prevent sticking, and either freeze in small batches or use soon after cooking. Stewed rhubarb is a great addition to muffins, so I like to keep some in the freezer throughout the year, as our youngest loves to cook muffins to bring to school.
Anybody got any other good rhubarb recipes to share?