We brought home a billion stalks of rhubarb the other day. It was really more like eight, but if you've ever carried a bag of long, thick, heavy stalks of rhubarb then I know you know what I mean. I bought the rhubarb with the intention of making a pie, but that didn't quite work out. The truth is that I'm not really committed when it comes to pie. I can make crust, but it bores me and I don't really even like it, to tell you the truth. That's why when the day came to make it, all I wanted to do was lay about with a book and a tall glass of coconut water while the fan blew cool and breezy on me. And as much as I tried to nudge and talk myself into it, I just wouldn't budge.
So I made a lazy pie instead. Or a crumble, if you prefer to be more exact.
Crumble is something between a crisp and a cobbler. It's basically just a dish full of pie filling, with a sweet, crumbly, slightly cakey layer of crust on top. When you pull it from the oven it oozes and bubbles and is all but guaranteed to burn the tips of your fingers when you set it down to cool. Your tongue too if, like me, you're unable to resist tasting a big spoonful of that still-too-hot-to-eat sweet.
This crumble gets its tingly mouthful of flavor from a combination of tart rhubarb, sweet cherries, and just a dash of rosewater. The marriage of flavors is perfect and the not-too-runny and not-too-thick texture puts those gooey canned fillings to shame.
If you've never tasted rhubarb before, I can actually relate. The truth is that I've really only tasted rhubarb twice in my life. The first was about eight years ago when I was an intern/office assistant at a Capital Hill nonprofit in DC. It was an office of the conservative sort, which meant it was mostly men in bow ties and navy sports jackets who drank and flirted and made impassioned impromptu speeches about Ronald Reagan and states' rights and bourbon. It's also where I met the lovely, lovely Moe who was the only other girl in the office and technically my "boss" at the time, though really we were more like war buddies who relied on each other in the midst of all that conservative testosterone.
The rhubarb came in one day in the early summer when Moe and a few of the peripheral women in the office (Wives, mainly. And some roommates.) got together for a day of pie baking during which they tested various crust recipes and fillings.
The results were brought into the office for us to try, and though I'm sure they were all lovely, the one I remember most was strawberry rhubarb. Something about that sweet and tart combination that made me feel like I'd been zapped back in time to one of those garden socials I'd read about in those silly young adult novels. That day, I kind of filed that lovely taste away with the intention of making something, but it wasn't until now that I finally followed through.
This recipe is really easy to follow. Just toss together and bake, really. If you don't have cherries, feel free to substitute strawberries or raspberries or whatever you happen to have hanging around. You can replace the rosewater with lemon juice or orange blossom water or even just a bit of vanilla if you like.
Rhubarb, Cherry, and Rosewater Crumble
4-5 big stalks of rhubarb, cut into even pieces about 1" each
2 cups of sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 1/3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup almond meal or other ground nut meal, toasted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Zest of one lemon
1 stick of melted butter
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping (flour, ground almonds, baking powder, sugar, zest, and salt). Pour in the melted butter and use your fingers to combine until crumbly. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, prepare your filling by tossing together the rhubarb, cherries, rosewater, lemon juice, salt, and cornstarch. Make sure everything is evenly distributed.
3. Spread the fruit out evenly in a 9" square baking pan or casserole dish, including any juices that the fruit may have released. Top with the the crumble topping, making sure to distribute it as evenly as possible.
4. Place your baking pan on a baking sheet (this tends to bubble while cooking so this will save you some sticky oven clean-up) and bake for 1 hour or until the topping is golden and the filling has bubbled through in parts.
Let cool slightly before eating. To store, wrap with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge.