There comes a time at which every tradition needs to be challenged to determine if it is relevant anymore or if changes are in order. I feel that is particularly true for food. However, if you want to change a classic, do so with purpose; then, change the name of the dish. I remember ordering a BLT years ago and it came with sprouts. Whether or not sprouts were a good addition (they were not, but avocado would have been) is irrelevant. A BLT is a specific set of ingredients and only those ingredients. If you add or subtract ingredients, it is a new dish. Inform people of that change and don’t continue to call it by the old name. Don’t even get me started on a martini vs. a vodka martini.
Some food traditions are classic and are classic and loved for a reason. The combination of ingredients has been honed over decades or centuries, and the taste is about as good as it can get. Others were born of a different time. A time when all food was locally grown and eaten in season. From this was born the strawberry and rhubarb pie. A very good pie by all accounts. But, now that location and seasonality are no longer requisites for ingredients, why not try other combinations. The desire to try new combinations and because I was never really a pie guy, even when I could eat gluten, led to the switch to fruit crisps and the substitution of blueberries for strawberries.
We have tried many combinations with rhubarb. Of course strawberries. But also peach and blackberries to name a few. Then, finally, blueberries. One of the issues we run into with watery fruit like strawberries, peaches, or blackberries, is that all that moisture makes the resulting crisp a bit too liquidy. Another issue is that those fruits, no matter how good they are on their own, just don’t have a bold enough flavor to stand-up to the main ingredient – rhubarb. Blueberries, preferably the small, low-bush variety, not the huge, high-bush varieties, solves both those issues. Blueberries are dry enough not to overly contribute to a liquidy crisp and have enough flavor to still be distinguishable within the crisp.
The recipe below is the one we generally use. We have substituted other citrus zest and juice when we don’t have an orange and the taste is the same. If you want to experiment on your own, just substitute fruit and berries. If you want a crisp a bit lighter, go easy on the crumb topping. If you are using very sweet fruit, lighten up on the sugar. All you’re doing here is cooking fruit with sugar and a crumb topping. There really isn’t a limit to what you can do and, unlike bread or pastry baking, there are no hard and fast ratios to use. You can even freeze the uncooked filling and crumb topping for use later. Just put the filling and topping in their own bags.
Rhubarb and Blueberry Crisp
- 2 cups fresh Rhubarb, diced 1/2 inch
- 2 cups fresh or frozen Blueberries, or whatever type of fruit you want to try, or, add 2 more cups of rhubarb
- Scant 3/8 cup Sugar
- 1 teaspoon Orange Zest (though lime or lemon zest will also work)
- 1/2 tablespoon Cornstarch
- 1/4 cup Orange Juice
- Crumb Topping:
- 1/2 Cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (or regular flour if it doesn’t matter for you)
- 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 cup Sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1/2 cup Quick Cooking Oatmeal, not instant oatmeal
- 6 tablespoons diced, cold, unsalted Butter (3/4 stick)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. If using an Aga stove, use upper oven with the heat shield. We have done the recipe without the heat shield (which is about 425 degrees) and it worked fine, just check on the crisp once in a while.
Filling: Combine rhubarb, blueberries, 3/8 cup sugar, and orange zest in a bowl. In a small bowl or cup, dissolve the corn starch in the orange juice. Mix the juice mixture into the fruit mixture. Pour the combined mixture into a 9″ pie round that is on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. The filling will most likely boil over and the cookie sheet should catch the overflow.
Topping: Combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar, brown sugar, salt, oats, and butter by hand until seems mixed together. Chill for 20 – 30 minutes.
Crumble the crumb topping over the fruit mixture. Cook for 1 hour, until the filling is bubbling away and the crumb topping is golden brown. Wait a bit to eat because it will be very hot. Serve warm with ice cream.