What not to do with rhubarb

May 14, 2011

Well, it looks like it’s that time of year again: the time when I come home with some shiny, delicious-looking piece of seasonal produce, visions of culinary greatness dancing in my head, only to destroy that innocent fruit or vegetable through ignorance and/or faulty equipment. Last year it was a pair of artichokes that turned out brown and limp but still too tough to eat; this year it’s a pound of jewel-toned rhubarb. And although I’d like to blame my sometimes-faulty oven or my general ineptitude for baking (which have joined forces to produce countless muffins that were perfectly golden on the outside, but overly squishy and moist in the middle), in this case I think it mostly comes down to a reluctance to follow directions.

The directions I wasn’t quite following were for a rhubarb crumble, posted on Orangette in 2005. Simple enough – toss sliced rhubarb with sugar and spices, top with a mixture of flour, brown sugar, rolled oats, and… 6-7 tablespoons of canola oil? Really? Baking-challenged or not, I’ve made (and eaten) lots of apple crisp, and I’ve always used butter in the topping, and certainly not 6 tablespoons of it. I figured a couple tablespoons of butter plus a slight drizzle of oil would work out all right. But I didn’t take into account the high flour-to-oats ratio in the rhubarb recipe, and without the stipulated amount of fat, the topping wasn’t browning, though the filling was bubbling gleefully. So I drizzled on a little more oil, turned on the broiler, and set a timer for three minutes. The timer sang out, I opened the oven, and my lovely rhubarb crumble was not merely browned, but blackened, and dancing with flame. I hastily shut the oven door and turned off the broiler, then opened some windows to dispel the nasty-smelling smoke while I waited for the fire to die out.

The silver lining: while I had to scrape off the hard black crust from the top, a little of the actual crust underneath survived. And I did make one successful innovation. The crumble recipe called for orange zest and I didn’t have an orange, so I substituted a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger (borrowed from another recipe I’d dismissed as probably less foolproof, ha ha). I am basically a ginger fiend, but I think even a normal person would appreciate the warm, spicy quality of the filling. And the extra flavor probably helped banish any lingering notes of carbon.

Whether my salvaged rhubarb crumble is fit to serve the friends I’m having for dinner tomorrow, I haven’t decided yet. But I bet it’ll make a terrific breakfast, topped with a dollop of vanilla yogurt.


One comment

  1. Well, it sounds like the rhubarb itself wasn’t wasted, so good work. This reminds me of one of my recipes for cranberry walnut bread which includes a hand-scratched note: “Turned out fine even though it caught on fire.”

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