Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Doing the Rhubarb Crumble!

A small part of our garden is kept a bit wild to shelter insect-eating friends like hedgehogs and lizards.

Pleasingly unkempt back corner, with weedy grass, bluebells and ivy.

Dayo appreciates the camouflage as he does a good job of catching Asiatic wasps hatching from the ground which is a serious problem in our region.

Dayo keeps his paw over the emerging wasp until I can squash it.  We make a great team.

The peas sown in mid February are merrily putting out flowers and in a couple of weeks there will be les petits pois to harvest.

The nodding heads of pea flowers

The hard-neck garlic will probably be ready for scape harvesting in a couple of weeks.

Cosily mulched under oak leaves

The delectable method of baking fruit under a buttery crumb topping is called crisp for Americans, crumble for the British. This approach towards flour and butter is a very clever way of getting much of the delights of a pastry crust without the bother.  Rhubarb is a splendid looking plant, about three-feet high and just as wide, quite bold in contour, sporting large, crinkled leaves.  Being a perennial, it comes back year after year.

Handsome rhubarb lends itself well to an edible landscape--a few are in my front garden

However, it is a moisture lover, so I do have to keep it well watered during our long, hot growing season.  Since rhubarb lasts for about 15 years, good preparation at planting time needs to be done--a deeply dug hole with lots of incorporated compost is essential.  Rhubarb grows well in full sun or part-shade; a few can be placed in the smaller bays between larger shrubs as long as the area is pesticide and herbicide free.

It is one of the perennials popping out in early spring, with its delightful, large, pinkish, egg-shaped ball of leaves ready to unfurl.  Though there are named varieties, I was just able to get from my nursery what they call red rhubarb.   Both green and red rhubarb taste the same, but I like how the red looks in cooking.  If green is only available, a few strawberries which are usually available at the same time, can be tossed into a recipe for colour.

Since the leaves are poisonous, it is important to carefully remove them when preparing rhubarb for cooking.  Though the huge flower buds are edible and supposedly taste like broccoli, I forgo eating them because they are tightly wrapped in young leaves.  However, the leaves and buds can be safely composted.  There are some varieties of ornamental rhubarb that are grown for flowers, but in general, for food-producing plants, flowering suddenly becomes very undesired and is referred to as bolting.  All energy needs to be channelled into the edible parts.  So, off with their heads!

I try to remove the buds as soon as I can see them as they get as big as broccoli with very thick stalks

No harvest is recommended the first spring after their planting, a limited one for the second spring, but for the third, a full harvest of about six to eight stalks can be done several times in a season.  Our plants are entering their third spring so we are very pleased as we both adore rhubarb.  The Calm One has loved rhubarb since childhood, while I reluctantly at first ate it, and then fell passionately in love with its no-holds-bar, in-your-face zing.  The punchy taste of rhubarb begs for the taming influence of butter, flour, and cream.

If using garden-fresh rhubarb, it is best not to harvest stalks by cutting them off at soil level because any remaining stalk under the soil will rot, possibly causing disease.  Pull upward with a slight twist from the bottom of the stalk.  Sometimes, I need to use both hands for the more sturdy stalks.

Just pulled rhubarb stalks gracing a sous sol window sill

I like putting leeks and rhubarb in this little glass pitcher, don't ask me why.

Rhubarb Crumble Recipe
(Makes nine generous servings, recipe can be halved)

  • Rhubarb, washed, peeled, and sliced, 1 kg or about 15 medium stalks
  • Sugar, 620 gms
  • Flour, 320 gms
  • Butter, cold, 160 gms
  • Cream for serving

Fresh rhubarb needs to be peeled of its fibrous outer layer (See addendum below).

When preparing food, I keep a container close by to collect vegetable matter for composting.

Pretty rhubarb ribbons

Put rhubarb in an oven dish and mix with 300 grams of sugar and place in an oven preheated to 400 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes until rhubarb is completely tender.

Remove approximately 1/3rd cup of rhubarb liquid otherwise the topping does not stand a chance of retaining its integrity and will just dissolve during baking.  The remaining rhubarb should appear slushy and not drowning in liquid.

Meanwhile, make the topping.  Mix the flour and rest of sugar in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl. Mix in food processor or by hand, until resembling coarse sand.  It takes around thirty to sixty seconds with a processor and about five to seven minutes by hand.

Mixed by hand

Spread topping on rhubarb filling in all edges.

Note the golden pink hue of the extra rhubarb juice on the left.

Bake till topping is crusty and golden, about 30 minutes.

Serve with cream or with whipped cream

This gooey, fragrant, carmelized, and succulent crumble can be served warm or cold.  Chez nous, after our eating the first servings, the Calm One is under direct orders--no one can expect me to do this task since I am the resident hedonist, oh excuse me, gourmet--to portion out and freeze the rest so they can not be so accessible for non-stop gorging.  In other words, calorie input can be regulated through the wonders of freezing.  With few exceptions, most food can be frozen with little change in its goodness.  Freezing is my prepared method of food preservation.

Bon appétit!

Michelle's Astuce:

Though I just drink the extra rhubarb juice as a fortitude-boosting elixir enabling my continuing in my baking endeavour, it is conceivable that a lovely coulis could be made and then served with the crumble.  In that case, just strain the syrup of the little bits of rhubarb and add cream or the coulis can be dribbled over whipped cream.


Apparently there is a great peel-or-not-peel rhubarb debate raging on the web! Sarah had commented at this post that she is one of the non-peelers.  For my next crumble, I forwent peeling and the Calm One preferred it to the previous with peeled stalks.  He found it way more rhubarby.  Also it was less juicy, with way more body,  therefore, I did not need to take out some liquid to prevent the topping from dissolving.  Perhaps for very big and old rhubarb stalks, peeling may be necessary.  In any case, feel free to experiment for yourself.