There are three types of people in this world: those that love rhubarb, those that detest it and the blissfully ignorant. I now have the wonderful opportunity to sway one of those blissfully unaware people to the tangy and sugar-laden dark side, and this is the recipe I chose to do it.
It’s always a shock to hear someone has never set fork and knife to a dish that is as common to Midwesterners as county fairs. My mom and both grandmothers have rhubarb patches, of which I have accidentally mowed over once or twice (ditto with the asparagus patch). Rhubarb has a limited season, best from April to June. That makes the window for others to experience this tart and tasty treat rather narrow. Thank goodness for the frozen fruit section.
I don’t remember the first time I ever had rhubarb, which is a taste profile you’d think would have ingrained itself in my memory. I do vividly remember my mom bringing in the large stalks of green, pink and red into the kitchen from the backyard. Her one small plant provided us with pies, crisps, jams, and Jello salads. I wanted to share some semblance of these memories with those who haven’t had the gumption to pick up a package of this odd court-declared fruit. Yes, you read that correctly. The U.S. Customs Court in Buffalo, New York issued a ruling in 1947 that rhubarb should be considered a fruit as it is typically used like a fruit. For more on rhubarb’s colorful and sometimes toxic history, read on here.
But from the very beginning, my grandmother’s recipe didn’t make it an easy one to share.
4 cups of rhubarb pieces (unsweetened if you get frozen)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons red* Jello – optional
*Either Grandma was just vague here or forgot the color red is not a flavor. Anyway, I used strawberry.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the rhubarb with the 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour. Put the mixture in a 8 to 9 inch baking dish and spread.
Stir together the topping mix of sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and Jello. Then beat one egg and add to the topping batter to make it crumbly. Spread over the rhubarb dish. Bake until the rhubarb is tender and the crumb top is nicely browned (for me, that was about 30 minutes).
I would highly recommend serving this dessert with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or even just cream. Basically, dairy. Any light sweetness to counteract the tang of the rhubarb plays well on the plate and palette.
As a reminder, I’m cooking recipes from a handwritten book my mom and grandma compiled when I moved into my first apartment. Concerned I would starve, they pulled some of their classic concoctions, ranging from wintery soups to 1950s Jello salads (we have a deep and passionate love for flavored gelatin). The book itself is an heirloom, but I’m afraid it does require some reading between the lines…and a few phone calls home.
Bd. p. Bd. p. I stared at this abbreviation written in my grandma’s hand for the rhubarb crunch recipe. What is this? The strange code was keeping me from recreating a good crunch. Oddly, my first thought was peanut butter. That was clearly wrong after a call to my mom revealed it was likely either baking powder or baking soda. We hedged our bets and went with baking powder. After getting off the phone about 40 minutes later, (my mom and I don’t really do “quick” calls) the recipe was complete. With so few ingredients and such an easy recipe, its very likely my grandma would often just whip this decadent dessert together from memory, not needing to read the recipe through four times (like me). I have yet to reach that level of skill, but this dessert may be the perfect start.
Today, I’m packing up the dessert in little containers, distributing them at work like a rhubarb crunch prophet, hopefully converting a few to this tart and tangy way of life. And sorry, I’ll open the gates of flavor heaven for you, but it’s BYOIC (bring your own ice cream).