Around the time I turned 11 years old my family moved to Minnesota. We moved in the fall and in the spring we discovered that a rhubarb plant had come with our new house. I had heard of rhubarb, but I had never tasted it. The reason for this could be that rhubarb doesn't tend to thrive in Missouri (I think the winters are too warm)...it's really hard to guess. But for whatever reason, I had never encountered it. I now realize that I had been deprived. I have spent the ensuing years making up for it.
During that first winter in Minnesota my mother had picked up a Junior League-style cookbook called Cooking in Minnesota. It was loaded with tasty, family friendly recipes—many of which featured Minnesota ingredients (wild rice—something else I had never tasted—for example); my mother used it so much that today it is in tatters. Since rhubarb seemed to be a Minnesota thing (the winters being too warm is not a problem there) my Mom turned to her new cookbook to discover ways to use our rhubarb. I think there were lots of options, but the first thing she settled on was something called Rhubarb Crunch. It was a huge hit. I don't remember if she ever made any of the other rhubarb recipes...we liked the Rhubarb Crunch so much that she made it again and again.
I was reminded of this old favorite as I stood in front of a huge tub of rhubarb at the market on Saturday. It was beautiful rhubarb: deep red, slender and unblemished.
The woman at the stall told me it was from her mother's plants and that it was particularly abundant this year (it goes without saying that we had an unusually cold winter...). She then told me she had already made herself a nice Rhubarb Crunch.
The minute she said that, I immediately knew what I was going to make. My Dad—who loved tangy fruit desserts (rhubarb, in particular)—had loved that Rhubarb Crunch. And even though he is no longer with us, I thought it would make a nice tribute to him on Father's Day to prepare something I knew he would have enjoyed.
Rhubarb Crunch is a very homey dessert...not even as upscale as a crisp. It differs from a crisp in that the fruit in a crisp seems to have less thickener. Also, when I think of a crisp, I think of a dessert with a higher proportion of fruit to topping. The crunch is made up of a slender layer of fruit that has been thickened to a jam-like consistency and a layer of a sweet, buttery, crunchy, crumbled cookie-like topping. It occurred to me as I re-examined my mother's recipe that it is actually more similar in style to my Mixed Berry Crumble Bars—without the bottom layer—than it is to a crisp. It is sweeter than desserts I tend to make nowadays, and if it hadn't been for the fact that I had already decided to make it for Father's Day, I probably would have moved on and made something else. I'm so glad I didn't.
My Rhubarb Crunch turned out to be a delicious trip down memory lane, but I have to admit I will probably not be making it again anytime soon. One of the things I remember about the Rhubarb Crunch my mother made is that it was difficult to walk by the pan without grabbing a fork and spearing off a chunk. The crunchy, sweet caramelized topping combined with the tangy fruit was irresistible. When I made it this time, I was dismayed to discover that it still has the same effect on me. As I went about my work yesterday I stopped by the pan several times to grab a nibble. I even discovered that it makes a very satisfactory mid-morning snack.
Just over twenty four hours after making it and it is almost gone.... Unfortunately, a small piece...or a little bite...just doesn't seem to be enough.
3 T. all-purpose flour (20 g)
3/4 c. sugar (150 g)
4 c. diced rhubarb (about 1 lb. trimmed weight)
3/4 c. oats (75 g)
1 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour (130 g)
3/4 c. packed golden brown sugar (150 g)
1/4 t. salt
9 T. unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium-sized bowl, combine 3 T. of flour with the granulated sugar. Add the rhubarb and toss to combine. Transfer the rhubarb to a buttered shallow 2-quart baking dish (a 7- by 11-inch works well), making sure the flour sugar mixture is evenly distributed. Set aside while you make the topping.
Place the oats, flour, brown sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl and toss to combine. Melt the butter and add, stirring until well blended and crumbly. Alternatively, you may simply slice the cold butter, add it to the bowl and rub it in—using your fingers or a pastry blender—until the mixture is crumbly.
Spread the topping evenly over the rhubarb.
Bake until bubbling and golden brown—about 35 to 45 minutes. Serve warm, room temperature...or even cold. Serves 8 to 10.
Most recipes suggest serving with whipped cream or ice cream, but I think it is just fine all by itself...one forkful at a time....
(Recipe adapted from Cooking in Minnesota from the kitchens of Twin City Home Economists in Homemaking)