Rhubarb, Recipes, and Writing

With Rhubarb Raspberry Crisp

RhubarbLately, I’ve been into combining two or more recipes as the basis for something I want to eat. I like to borrow technique from some places, and flavor profiles from others. This method has become the preferred approach recently, after a baking disaster. You know how it goes. You think “I bake a ton, so surely I can just improv this baking recipe, right?” Wrong. Baking is a science requiring certain techniques, and I always let myself forget that. No so with this Rhubarb Raspberry Crisp.

Enter borrowing. I’ve started experimenting with a vegetable-ordering service. It’s sort of like a CSA, but instead of getting a regular, set box, I get prompted on Tuesday to put in an order for Thursdays—so I can see what’s seasonal, pick some things, and then use that as the basis for my regular grocery order over the weekends. This week, I picked a large bunch of rhubarb, without knowing what, exactly, I wanted to do with it.

The recipe disaster recently was an improvised berry and rhubarb crisp, which went wrong because I eyeballed the topping, and it ended up being way too dense and nutty, and the fruit-to-topping ratio was all wrong. It was what a contestant on Top Chef might have said about undercooked pasta—“toothsome”—if the judges called it underdone.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with this round of rhubarb, but I knew what topping I wanted: the topping on my mom’s apple crisp. This conviction deepened after Skyping with my mom, who confessed that she didn’t like rhubarb; she’d always had it stewed growing up, and couldn’t say whether it was meant to be sweet or savory. So I started looking for inspiration for a recipe for the rhubarb-skeptics. I’m tweaked the crisp from my mom’s apple crisp recipe (and I’m not sure where she got it). All I know is that I have it in a binder collection of recipes I assembled for me and my sister, and that I’ve deliberately misspelled the word “crisp” (as “crips”) because that’s what we called it as children. The filling is inspired by this Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve added a little bit more sugar to offset the raspberries, which are tarter than strawberries, and I’ve zipped things up with fresh ginger, which caramelized and added some interesting chewiness. It’s good on its own, or with ice cream if a certain someone eats more than their half of dessert.

I mentioned that I have a binder full of recipes. Two of them, actually. One for mains, and another for breakfast/dessert. They’re probably from about 2009 or so, when I had been living in my first solo flat (in grad school) and then moved in with my roommate, Rachel (we lived at the House of Rachels; it was wonderful). My sister would’ve been moving to her own off-campus apartment. These recipes weren’t mine, for the most part, though a bunch were my mom’s.

Since then, I’ve been thinking more carefully about what I want in a recipe, and how to write them for readers. Especially recently, when I’ve been combining two recipes and want a record of what I’ve done to create something that riffs on both of them. A recipe is really like an essay. It makes an argument, and at its best, it tells you why it’s chosen to write a paragraph about X instead of Y, and how X moves the dish forward to its very best, most persuasive conclusion. It’s honest about what work it’s done, and what it’s trying to do. It makes some guesses for future edits. It lets you figure out where you can improvise, and when not to do it.

So, this recipe for Rhubarb Raspberry Crisp really started as an argument in favor of rhubarb. I tell you to rub the ginger and lemon zest into the sugar, because I forgot to do that and I think it would have tasted better. In the interest of honesty I can tell you that I made this recipe only once, and that I eyeballed some of the quantities—let me know if you make this and find something that doesn’t work! Some of the ingredients are measured in grams and some in cups, because I was too lazy to do the conversions as I baked. There are lots of good conversion charts online if you want to Google (but, double honesty: I don’t feel like Googling for you today). I haven’t tried the crisp with other flours, but I bet if you wanted to swap almond flour out for something else, you could (like dried, flaked coconut). Orange zest instead of lemon could be interesting. I’d keep the volume of fruit about the same, and the same goes for the amount of flours in the topping. Improvise with flavor, but not with ratios, is what I’m telling you.

Now go forth, and eat rhubarb! And maybe tell me what you like in a recipe.

Rhubarb Raspberry Crisp

For the Berries
1 knob butter
1 ½ cup sugar
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 lemon, zested
2T cornstarch
Pinch salt
500g rhubarb, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
225g raspberries

For the Topping
½ cup oats
½ cup flour
½ cup almond flour
¾ cup dark brown sugar
125 grams unsalted butter

  1. Grease a 9 X 13 pan with the butter, and preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. In a large bowl, measure out the sugar. Rub the ginger and lemon zest into the sugar. Add the cornstarch and salt, and stir. Add in the rhubarb and the raspberries, stirring gently to combine.
  3. Combine all topping ingredients, minus the butter. Cut the butter into cubes, and stir gently. Spoon evenly over the crumble.
  4. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes. Mine was done in 35. Let sit ten minutes before serving.



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