“You will escape into domesticity & stifle yourself by falling headfirst into a bowl of cookie batter.”
-Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal in 1957, after a day spent baking a pie.
Rhubarb always seemed to me like an old-fashioned thing. Until the year before last, I was sort of immune to it’s charms, and blissfully unaware that it was even still something people ate. My grandma used to talk about it, as if it was something that was extinct; along with the T-Rex and the icebox. And then of course, Boardwalk Empire made a reference to rhubarb pie, which was just so perfect because honestly, that’s exactly the era I thought people stopped eating it. As a child the only rhubarb I ever heard of was Strawberry Shortcake’s friend’s pet monkey. I didn’t even know if it was a fruit or a vegetable. Truth be told, I still don’t, however thanks to Wikipedia I learned that “…rhubarb is usually considered to be a vegetable; however, in the United States, a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit, it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. A side effect was a reduction on imported rhubarb tariffs, as tariffs were higher for vegetables than fruits.” And literally, that was the extent of my rhubarb knowledge. Other than some pictures on the web I didn’t even know what it looked like. But then, lo and behold, back in spring of ’10 my mom’s friend Carina sent her an easy recipe for a rhubarb crumble-type thing, and I made it for her after tracking a few stalks of rhubarb like a deranged bounty hunter. Let me tell you, before this canning boom, it was not easy to find around here. Three markets told me they stopped carrying it due to low demand. I’m not even kidding. And then last year, since the crumble was such a big hit, she requested I make her some rhubarb ginger jam. It was a bit easier to find last year, but not like this year.
This year it was in the supermarket! Right out there in the open, the bright pink rhubarb stalks were sitting there all happy with a big sign declaring them. In your average, everyday, suburban supermarket. I was almost irritated, actually, after my two previous years of having to hunt it down. But it’s convenient, I admit. Also it’s convenient that most people (okay, everyone) was walking right past it, so I had my pick.
I decided to make a rhubarb pie slash crumble because I wanted to make something with rhubarb, but also because I wanted to brush up on my pie crust skills… and use a pretty pie plate. I’ve got this new pie plate obsession, you know. It’s sick, and it’s extending into a sort of all-encompassing baking dish obsession. I also decided to make this during the first heatwave of the season, when it was about 86° at 8 p.m. That’s ’cause I’m a genius. So anyway, I made a pie crust for the bottom, filled it with the rhubarb filling, then added a “crumble” on top. Just a plain ol’ down home humble little crumble pie. Easy, impressive, and fun. And summery of course. What’s more summery than rhubarb pie!? For the bottom pie crust, go to this post where I have a recipe, or use your own favorite pie crust recipe. You only need a bottom, though, so be sure to halve it if it’s a double-crust recipe. Or you can refrigerate or even freeze the other half, either in plastic wrap or in a pie plate until you need it.
And as usual, I will not judge you if you use a pre-made or frozen pie crust. Do what you gotta do. But hey look, enough about you. Look at how much better my pie crust is! I might have finally gotten the hang of pie crust rolling. Maybe.
RHUBARB LEMON HUMBLE CRUMBLE PIE
- 1 9″-inch pie crust, ready to go
- about 1 ½ pounds rhubarb stalks (roughly 7-9 stalks that are around 10″-15″ long)
- ⅓ cup water
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 drops pink or red food coloring (100% optional, I didn’t use any myself in this pie but I’m certainly not against it)
- ¼ cup butter, room temperature (not too soft, not too cold)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare pie crust in a pie plate or pan, set aside. Combine lemon zest and 1 cup sugar in a bowl and let sit for 15-20 minutes.
- Trim and rinse the rhubarb stalks. Slice particularly thick or large stalks in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise in ½” to 1″-inch lengths. Combine sliced rhubarb and water in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons flour with the lemon zest/sugar mixture, stirring until well blended; add to the rhubarb mixture. Stir well and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover but leave the cover ajar to let steam escape and continue simmering for about 5 minutes, or just until tender. If desired, add a little red food coloring to make the filling more colorful. Spoon filling into the prepared pie crust.
- With a pastry blender or fingers, combine the topping ingredients until blended and crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the pie. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until topping is browned and the filling is bubbly. Serve slightly warm or room temperature with plenty of whipped cream.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how weird life is. I mean, if you’d told me years ago I’d be making rhubarb crumbles and pickles this time of year and not having boozy barbecues or drinking Heineken’s out of the back of my friend’s boyfriends Jeep until early morning, I might have had you committed. And on top of that, if you told me I’d love being in the kitchen and I’d obsess over kitchenware, I’d just think you were a nutjob. I didn’t really want to be anywhere near a kitchen unless it involved defrosting something or it was Christmas time & there were cookies involved. Can you believe it? It’s kind of bizarre. I used to have watercolors & gouache on my mind & ink stained clothes, now I have recipes on my mind & crusty, floury baking stains on whatever exposed areas of clothing my aprons don’t fully protect. But life takes you down different paths, and where I once thought domesticity was stifling, I know see it as an open door. Life doesn’t always travel the exact trail we think it will, we have to be open to new things, new ideas, new concepts. New ingredients aren’t exempt from that either. Who the fuck would’ve thought that I would be baking… least of all baking with rhubarb?! ‘Cause when was the last time you knew someone who knew that the hell rhubarb was? And I mean someone who wasn’t a baker or food preserver, and most especially someone who doesn’t have a food blog.
I still love art. I still love to draw, although lately it’s been more digital art/graphic design (and a bit of photography for the blog) than anything else. But it’s okay, because I know these things ebb & flow. Right now, my freelance graphic design, my blog and my baking/cooking is what’s happening, someday watercolor painting or drawing will be in the mix again too, along with who knows what else. Gotta get my mojo back is all. But hopefully no matter what, I’ll still always have time to be in the kitchen. One of the best things I ever did back in early 2006 was walk into a kitchen and start cooking & baking. It’s opened me up to a whole new world I never even thought about. It saved me. I don’t know where I would be right now without that outlet. I’ve cooked and baked and canned my way through every sad, happy, funny or boring day for the past almost 7 years. It’s been part learning experience, part coping mechanism, part creative outlet. It’s been both my Prozac and at times my biggest aggravation. But at the end of the day I always felt better, thanks to it. Maybe… if you need saving too, you should try it. Make some rhubarb crumble pie. Just give it a shot. Especially if it’s new. It might open up a new door for you.
And by the way, Sylvia, domesticity ain’t so bad. It might have even saved you, if you’d have let it.