23 June, 2009

For The Love of Rhubarb

Walking the dogs the other night I was seriously tempted to do a little midnight gardening. Now, I'm a thirty-something mom with a mortgage, a real job (as opposed to a McJob), and significantly less alcohol running through my blood than I did 10 or even 15 years ago. Midnight gardening is not something I should be doing.  You know what I mean, right?  Sneaking into gardens to pull carrots, pick strawberries, and sneak raspberries?  Oh, maybe that's just what us bored kids in the 'burbs did.

So there I am walking the dogs in the near dark.  Business done, I notice this giant, neglected rhubarb plant in the corner of the alley.  Just tucked behind someone's garage, begging to be chopped down, this lush plant called to me.  "Pick me!  Come on, you know you want to do it. Pick me!"

The thirty-something mom in me prevailed and I went home with only a dog-poop bag in hand.

A few days later, however, we were working on the fence with the neighbour.  The girls wandered down the alley and when I chased after them I came across their rhubarb plant. I completely forgot that they have two of these plants.  Since they would never harvest and use all of it, and they really didn't need to store one more thing, I volunteered to take it off their hands.  Really, I'm that generous.

At this point it was necessary to bring out a bowl of sugar and introduce the girls to one of my favourite childhood treats - rhubarb dipped in sugar.  We pulled up a pile of wood, watched Hubby cut some of that wood and our neighbour shovel gravel, munching away.  Okay, I munched away, The Monster sucked sugar off and tried to peel her rhubarb, and Smilosaurus gummed the stalk and fought to put handfuls of sugar directly in her mouth.  Perhaps the introduction was a bit too early?

When it was time to get the girls out of the way of Hubby we came inside and baked. Conveniently, nature provides the perfect match for rhubarb, strawberries.  I know it seems a little cliche, but they really are made for each other.  There is a reason they mature together. Armed with the first of the BC strawberries I knew that nothing but a crisp was in order. Everyone else can have their cobblers, crumbles, and brown betty.  I love me a crispy crisp.

In my eyes, a perfect crisp has a slightly runny syrup, chunky fruit, and a crisp, oat-filled top. Pick your fruit based on the season, but don't mess with the top.  Ever.  No extra seasonings, no fancy additions.  Simple, plain, and balanced.  And whatever you do, please leave the nuts out. They just don't belong.

Where it does pay to be creative is in the filling.  Spice, limitless fruit combinations, and unexpected additions are all welcome here.  Looking to branch out  - just a little - from my usual strong vanilla accents with the strawberry rhubarb crisp I dug through my recently organized spices.  Cinnamon?  Nah, too predictable. Nutmeg?  Feels too wintery.  Cardamon? Ooh, now that could be nice.  Holy freakin' gawd, it was amazing!  Try this.  Now.

When it comes to cardamon, a little goes a long way.  It would have been a lot better if I had some whole pods to grind fresh, but a little ground, dried spice still worked wonders.  It really was a perfect compliment to the tartness of the rhubarb and sweetness of the fresh strawberries.  We invited our neighbours over for dinner.  Good fences do make good neighbours.  And rhubarb honestly got makes you a better neighbour.

Cardomon Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
(serves 4 for dinner, and possibly a little leftover for breakfast, topped with yogurt)

2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups sliced rhubarb
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon - 1 tsp ground cardamon (depending on how strong it smells) 

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup rolled oats

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray an 8 by 8 baking dish (or similar size) with non-stick spray or butter the pan.
2. Gently mix together the fruit through to the cardamon.  Pour into the baking dish and set aside.
3.  Cream the butter and brown sugar.  Add in the flour and salt.  Finally, stir in the oats.  Do not overstir or mix because you can break up the oats and that diminishes the crispiness.
4. Using your fingers, top the filling with clumps of the topping.  Do not press down.  
5.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the filling if bubbling and the top is lightly browned.  Let cool and serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt. 


Megan said...

Looks oh-so yummy. Unfortunately my rhubarb didn't fair so well this season :( Maybe there is still hope, yet!

Aimée said...

I'm on board for anything rhubarb--looks great, love the addition of spices.

Roving Lemon said...

Glad to see you are finally getting some rhubarb! (It's still showing up in the markets here--eight months and counting!) And I agree that the addition of cardamom makes for a totally transcendental experience.

Chris said...

Yummy Yummy. Straight rhubarb (with sugar)..how my grandmother always served it.

Julie said...

YUM! I have to agree with you except for the topping - I kind of like sliced almonds in mine! Or pecans. Pecans go in everything.

My rhubarb sucks. I am very tempted to go harvest down the alley... but might chicken out until 4am when I'm sure no one's around...

Kevin Kossowan said...

Massively underrated. I planted 13 plants this year, so next year, if you need any, screw $3 for a few sticks at the market - just come over and grab some. :)

Your sis-in-law said...

Cannot stand rhubarb but that sounds so delicious I might have to raid our mum-in-law's patch and try it.

Anonymous said...

I used to love eating raw rhubarb dipped in sugar when I was little! That pic brought back great memories!

Isabelle said...

I just posted on my blog about a rhubarb apple sauce with cardamon, but really I was craving this. Bring on the sugar kick, please!

Anonymous said...

We ate it dipped in sugar straight from the plant as kids too.