When the buds on our cherry blossom tree unfurl, and the azaleas bushes pop into a riot of pink, I always think about rhubarb. Its appearance, like artichokes, asparagus, and Cadbury Creme Eggs, signify the of arrival of spring to me. Despite the chokehold winter has taken on much of the country, it is definitively spring in Lower Alabama. In our spacious backyard in Montana, we had a six square foot patch of rhubarb. The gorgeous, fig-shaped leaves were as big as elephant ears. At first, I had no idea what to do with all of those funny-looking things I thought looked like red celery stalks, but with a little help from our friends in town, I quickly made use of the delightfully tart ingredient, namely in this delectable Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie.
Believe it or not, rhubarb is not the most popular vegetable (yes, it is a vegetable) on the produce cart. It’s sour. Eat it raw and you might be puckering up for a week. In fact, it didn’t gain popularity in 17th century England until the acquisition of sugar, which was naturally used to temper its bitter bite. Usually reserved for sweets such as pies, bar cookies, and the likes, rhubarb has been considered a fairly limited ingredient. Paired with the right ingredients, however, rhubarb can be a perfect accompaniment to chicken, pork, and fish (but that’s for another post).
I recently picked up a lot of gorgeous Florida strawberries (three pints for $5? Yes please). I quickly tired of slicing them into bowls of cereal, and I just had too many that even my kids couldn’t eat them all. Because today is one of the best holidays, ever, (Pi(e) Day), I knew I had to acquire some rhubarb for a pie. I tried two supermarkets and a desperate plea on Facebook when my friend, Annie, alerted me to its presence in our local Publix.
I’ve adapted the recipe from a one that first appeared in Bon Appétit magazine in 1989 called Deep-Dish Rhubarb Pie with Crumb Topping. I made a few changes. I decided to use a (gasp) prepared pie crust because it’s just easier. I don’t have any other excuse. I also decided to omit the spices, cinnamon and nutmeg, from the original recipe because I wasn’t going for a spicy, warm flavor. I wanted something tart-sweet and springy, which is exactly what I love about the combination of strawberry rhubarb.
The crumble topping is so simple. I prefer a crumble topping on a fruit pie because of the added sweetness and texture. As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way to mix a crumble, and that’s with your hands. Rub the butter between your fingers, making sure to mix it with the flour, sugar, and oats.
The filling is cooked over the stovetop, so this pie is a little more labor-intensive than the mix and dump variety. The crust also must be par-baked because it would most definitely have a “soggy bottom” without that step (and no one wants a soggy bottom). My favorite part about this recipe is once you strain the fruit, there is a lovely rhubarb syrup left. Rhubarb is such a gorgeous, blush pink color when cooked. Spooned warm over vanilla ice cream, or in a cocktail (like the Rhub A Dub Dub), the leftover syrup is is a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit June 1989
- 2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- 1 pound rhubarb sliced into ½ inch pieces
- 1 basket of strawberries hulled and sliced into uniform pieces
- juice of half of a lemon
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 pie crust baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until golden
Preheat oven temperature to 350°F. Combine oats, flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Add butter and squish with hands until butter is fully incorporated and mixture is uniformly crumbly. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
Mix rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice in heavy large saucepan. Let stand 30 minutes. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer until juices thicken, about 5 minutes. Strain fruit with a strainer and save the syrup for a cocktail or two.
Pour filling into baked crust. Cover with topping. Bake about 20 minutes--check on crust, and cover with foil if browning too quickly. Cool on rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.