Right now, I’ve got a bit of a rhubarb conundrum happening in my basement.
Last summer, my dad – who knows his daughter did not inherit his green thumb but happily accepts that she is willing to bake him anything he requests in return for homegrown fruits and vegetables – generously shared the bounty of his enormous garden with us. By the end of June, we had more than 300 cups of chopped rhubarb stored in our freezer. In fact, we were swimming in so much rhubarb that Dad didn’t even bother harvesting his last crop.
Now, as rhubarb season approaches once again, it’s time to try to whittle down some of the rhubarb surplus we have stored to make room for this year’s arrival. Fortunately, rhubarb is incredibly versatile, and can be used in a variety of ways, from sauce for ice cream, to jams and jellies, to pies and crumbles. You can stew it and make it into flavored simple syrup for cocktails and other beverages, or reduce it thicker and use as syrup for pancakes and waffles. It’s delicious in breads, muffins, cakes and cookies, or as chutney on meats like pork and chicken.
For those who aren’t as familiar with rhubarb, here’s a quick agricultural lesson from my dad the gardener. Rhubarb is a perennial plant composed of thin stalks and large ornamental leaves. The stalk is the only portion of the plant that can be eaten, as the leaves and roots contain oxalic acid, a toxic poison. Though rhubarb is technically a vegetable, it is typically used with other fruits and sugars to create a sweet filling (thus its long-time moniker as the “pie plant.”) Rhubarb alone is incredibly tart, which is why it is usually combined with a sweetener to become more palatable, though it is technically safe to eat raw (I wouldn’t advise it, though!)
There are many different varieties of rhubarb, but as a rule, the redder the stalks, the better flavor produced. It’s best to harvest rhubarb before the stalks get too big, about 12-18 inches, as the larger stalks tend to be less tender. Rhubarb tastes best when harvested in late spring and early summer, before temperatures get above 85 degrees.
To freeze rhubarb, cut the leaves and roots off the plant, clean and chop into uniform, bite-sized pieces and seal in a Ziploc bag, ensuring all air is removed from the bag.
If you, like me, are looking for ways to use your rhubarb, try this rustic strawberry-rhubarb crisp, made just like grandma used to make. This crisp was made for our Easter celebration and was gobbled up in minutes. It’s quick and easy to assemble, and best of all, it can be made up to two days before your event and stored at room temperature. Before serving, simply reheat at 250 degrees for 15 minutes or until bubbling. Serve with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and enjoy!
Rustic Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
6 medium stalks rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise
½ cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup firmly-packed golden brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, stir together the rhubarb, strawberries and sugar until well mixed. Pour into a 2.5-quart ceramic or glass pie dish or baking dish, and set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, rolled oats, sugars, cinnamon and salt until well blended. Stir in the melted butter until evenly moistened crumbs form. Spoon the crumb mixture over the filling.
Bake the crisp until the rhubarb is tender when tested with a toothpick, the juices are bubbling and the topping is golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm.
Note: The crisp can be cooled, covered with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. Rewarm in a 250-degree F oven for 15 minutes before serving. Preferably with a substantial scoop of vanilla ice cream.