When I can buy rhubarb this wow, why do I bother growing my own? That’s what I ponder every Saturday morning when I head to the local farmers market and stock up on armfuls of these thick, dark ruby giants from the man from The Huon (as in the Huon Valley part of Tas). And then when I get home and look at mine, anaemic and as thin as a pencil. You can see how astonishing the market-bought ones are – just compare them to the bananas nearby; they are just as thick! And it’s not just handsome good looks; the rhubarb has a surprisingly lemony flavour.
So I have been stockpiling: one market morning, I bought three kilos, which was chopped and frozen ready for a winter treat (I have a large stash of rhubarb recipes, cakes or puddings, because rhubarb is one of my favourite things, but they are rather wasted on my meagre crop).
The next week, sadly, I dithered over which recipe to use, and then we had a bit of a heatwave and I didn't feel like turning the oven on, which meant that week’s bunch went a little floppy in the fridge — which is a disgraceful way to treat such prized produce. But it was just as good stewed — and such a beautiful rosy colour, one of rhubarb’s surest appeals — and served on my breakfast oats or with a spoonful of natural yoghurt for an afternoon or post-dinner snack.
But let’s do some word association, and if I say ‘rhubarb’, chances are you’ll reply ‘crumble’. What about rhubarb crumble pie? I finally got to try this Martha Stewart recipe, all rolling pastry and rubbing in butter, and it was delicious. Truly made to showcase richly-coloured, zingy rhubarb like this.
But then I thought, as much as I love making pastry and don’t do it enough (it should have been a culinary resolution), we should just stick with tradition – that is, stick with the rhubarb crumble part.
Which doesn’t mean I stayed true to Martha’s recipe. The original had one cup of sugar to six cups of rhubarb — why mask rhubarb’s essential flavour with such an astounding amount of sugar (and risk tooth decay)? Like a puckeringly-good granny smith apple, I don’t mind when rhubarb does that ‘take the enamel off your teeth’ thing. And for some reason, I decided this biscuit-like crumble needed some hazelnut meal in it for extra flavour and a different texture. Don’t ask me how I come to these fiddlings, but I did and they worked.
And finally - look, a mini rhubarby map of Tassie!
Rhubarb crumbleThis is wonderful warm, of course; the biscuity topping is light, a bit short, and not so hard. However, I have been eating this fridge-cold while the weather is hot, and the cold fruit is refreshing. Enjoy with a clod of your favourite dairy; mine has been greek yoghurt, which steps up to the rhubarb’s tang nicely.
A note too about baking dishes. The first time I made the pie, I used a small pie dish (about 20cm diameter) so the fruit was heaped; the second time with the crumble I used a larger square pyrex dish and so the fruit layer was thinner. But it doesn't really matter - it's only a crumble - so use your favourite dish.
You can find Martha’s original rhubarb crumble pie recipe here.
- First, chop about 650 to 700 gms of rhubarb into roughly two cms pieces. Toss into your baking dish - no need to butter the dish, I found - and sprinkle over 1/3 cup sugar (which still looks like a lot but is better than the original!) and 1 1/2 tbspns cornflour. Stir around to coat everything well and set aside while you get on with the next bit.
- In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup white plain flour, 1/4 cup hazelnut meal, 2 tbspns wholemeal plain flour, 1/3 cup light brown sugar and a good pinch of salt. Now rub in 80 gms of butter that is cold but just soft enough to rub in (of course, you could use your food processor for this, but it was the weekend and I was in no hurry). There is a lot of butter in this and towards the end, I swapped delicate fingertips-only rubbing in and just got in and squidged about to ensure it was well combined.
- Preheat your oven to 180. Dot the topping over the rhubarb, allowing spaces for the juices to bubble up in between.
- Pop into the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes or until the rhubarb is gently bubbling away and the topping is lightly browned.