I first set eyes on rhubarb in my Toronto childhood backyard. I didn’t know it was edible but did notice its big, fat, leafy presence.
My mom, an avid gardener, ignored it. Her passions skewed to flowers. We often shared a loving look at her peonies or roses together, but chives were as far as she’d go in the green department.
Writing about and researching fruits and veggies most of my life, I’ve always been a little dubious of the childhood rhubarb recollections relayed to me by friends. They always shake their greying heads with revelatory passion, recounting how they had dipped freshly grown rhubarb into a jar of sugar. All this, standing alone in the middle of a vegetable patch at the age of five or six. Uh, huh? I tried this sugar dip trick recently and couldn’t spit the rhubarb out fast enough.
Let’s be real folks, rhubarb is one sour mofo. Don’t get me wrong. I can embrace sour but with rhubarb, it’s always begs for more sugar than the rest of the gang.
On the plus side, I adore growing this so-called fruit that’s actually a vegetable. A perennial, rhubarb really grows itself. It’s the first to poke through the soil in early spring, starting with little red bumps and furled, neon green leaves that stretch out dramatically into a monster of a bush in a few weeks. Rhubarb grown in greenhouses is usually pinker (and deceptively sweeter-looking) than my garden’s red-green, tannic stalks.
Alas, the colour of a rhubarb stalk has nothing to do with ripeness.
This veggie calls out in its pretend, fruit voice for our sweetest of attentions. It loves to be buffeted in a blanket of sugar, butter and carbs. That’s all it wants. Maybe you’ll want it too if you give in to the sweetness rhubarb demands.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
Crisps are a simple, easy dessert for fruit-filled success that are just as good — if not better — for breakfast the following day. Einkorn and oats are a match made in whole grain heaven. There’s a reason strawberries and rhubarb pair so well. They are seasonal sisters in the garden and sugary strawberries help abate all that rhubarb pucker.
2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
2 1/2 cups rhubarb, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp blanched almond slivers, toasted
3/4 cup whole einkorn
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced
1 cup oatmeal
In a round 8-cup ceramic or glass dish, toss strawberries and rhubarb chunks with white sugar and corn starch.
In a food processor bowl, blitz toasted almonds, einkorn, brown sugar, cardamom and salt with a few pulses in the food processor. Add butter cubes and pulse until they are pea-sized morsels. Combine with oatmeal and layer over the fruit.
Bake in 375 F oven for 40-45 min or until top is golden brown and fruit is bubbling beneath.