More often than not, when people talk about rhubarb the word grandma comes up in the conversation.
I first tasted rhubarb, stewed rhubarb actually, many years ago in my Grandma Mame’s small Los Angeles kitchen. I remember loving the color, the soft and stringy texture, the sweet yet tart flavor and the smell that is rhubarb. Rhubarb for me is an inextricable part of my grandma memories.
Here’s a wonderful picture from 1923 of my Grandma Mame, Grandpa Jake (who died before I was born) and my mother in their downtown Los Angeles grocery store almost 100 years ago. I’ve always loved this picture and am grateful to my sister for saving and sharing it. You can read a little about my grandparents and see a larger picture of their store here.
Crimson stalks of rhubarb
Just the other day my husband Paul and I harvested our first rhubarb of the season at the home of some friends who have yet to return from their winter escape. I love their rhubarb as the stalks are the reddest of reds. With each stalk we pulled, the fragrance of rhubarb perfumed the air for just a moment before the next crimson stalk was harvested.
We had friends for dinner on Sunday. I made the Rhubarb Apple ‘n Ginger Crisp pictured here. It was everyone’s first taste of rhubarb for the year. Mmm mmm, as delicious and perhaps even more delicious than I remembered.
Is it a crisp or a crumble?
My family always called this crust-less pie a “crisp” and my mother’s recipe for the topping came straight off the round Quaker Oats box. However, I just learned in the Joy of Cooking, that the British consider this same dish to be a “crumble” when the topping includes rolled oats. Though I like the sound of the word “crumble,” out of nostalgia I’ll probably always call this dish a “crisp.” What about you, is it a crisp or a crumble?
Three keys for a successful crisp
1. Key number one
The usual proportion is 4 cups rhubarb to 1 cup sugar—that’s ½ pound of sugar for every 1¼ pounds of fruit! Rhubarb is tart. Actually rhubarb is extremely tart. Yet there’s no way in good conscience that I could put that much sugar into one dessert. Fortunately, I’ve discovered a means by which I and now you no longer have to.
By pairing the rhubarb with naturally sweet apples,
the rhubarb requires from half to two-thirds less sweetener.
By precooking the apples before adding the rhubarb,
the rhubarb retains more of its texture.
3. Key number three
Now this key refers specifically to the crisp topping when prepared with a liquid sweetener such as honey, agave, maple syrup or fruit sweetener. I learned this by trial and error—oh my, when the liquid sweetener was added last there were no crumbles in sight.
Add the liquid sweetener to the flour, oats and spices first,
and then work in the butter.
A final admission
I’ve always enjoyed crisps and especially their sweet, crisp and crumbly topping. There was one afternoon when I was about 10 that I ate the entire topping off a cooling pan of apple crisp one spoonful at a time. Between the smell and the taste and texture, I had little will or desire to stop . . . until my Mother came home.
Crisps are like pies without a crust and covered with a delicious crumb topping. To make the topping gluten-free substitute an equal amount of a gluten-free baking mix for the flour.
As crisps are perfect for gatherings large and small, here are the amounts for two different sized pans
One 7 x 9 inch pan 6-9 servings One 7 x 11 inch pan 9-12 servings
3 ½ cups 1-inch pieces rhubarb 4 ¾ cups 1-inch pieces rhubarb
¼ cup light honey (such as clover honey) 6 tablespoons honey
3 ¼ cups ½ -inch peeled, diced apple 4 ½ cups ½-inch peeled, diced apple
2 tablespoons water 3 tablespoons water
1/3 inch piece peeled ginger, minced ½ inch piece peeled ginger, minced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour* ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour*
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom ¾ teaspoon cardamom
3 tablespoons light honey Rounded ¼ cup honey
¼ cup cold butter in ½-inch pieces 6 tablespoons cold butter in ½-inch pieces
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats** 1 1/8 cups rolled oats**
1/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted ½ cup walnuts, lightly toasted
Place the diced apples into a large pot with the water, minced ginger and cinnamon. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat until the apples are softened though still chunky, about 10 minutes—stirring twice. Combine the apples with the rhubarb and honey mixture and place into your baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare the topping: Place the flour, spices and honey into the bowl of a food processor. Use the pulse action to quickly combine the ingredients. Add the butter and pulse a few more times to distribute the butter and keep the mixture very crumbly. Add the toasted walnuts and oats and pulse a few times to combine.
Top the fruit with an even layer of the crisp topping.Place the baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any overflow. Bake the smaller-sized pan for about 45 minutes and the larger pan about an hour or more until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.
Serve hot or at room temperature with a dollop of yoghurt, ice cream or a spoonful of lightly sweetened, whipped cream.
*I have successfully used Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour to replace the whole wheat pastry flour.
**Not all oats are gluten-free as they may be packaged in a plant that packages other products that contain gluten. Bob’s Red Mill also makes Gluten Free Rolled Oats.