Frontier Psychiatrist

Perhaps It Won’t Be a Pie

Posted on: June 6, 2012

For someone who cooks as much as I do, it’s something of a wonder that I’ve made it this far in life without ever having baked (or even eaten!) strawberry-rhubarb pie.  It’s relatively standard as far as spring-time pies go, and I know what rhubarb is all about (looks like red celery; leaves are poisonous), but I’ve just never done it.  I decided this would be the year I add strawberry-rhubarb pie to my portfolio.

One of the tricky things about strawberry-rhubarb anything is that the seasons of these two ingredients overlap for just a brief window of time here inNew York.  I’ve been eyeing rhubarb in the farmers market for weeks, but nice-looking strawberries have just started to show their lovely red faces.  And I simply refuse to sacrifice quality when it comes to strawberries.  Like my previous rants on tomatoes, there’s something magical about strawberry season.  Winter strawberries are always white on the inside and tart as heck or, worse, watery.  But an itsy bitsy, tender June strawberry is where it’s at.

I finally found my window of opportunity last week, when both strawberries AND rhubarb made a joint appearance.  I should mention now that not only have I never made strawberry-rhubarb pie, but I’ve actually never made any pie from scratch.  This only came to my attention when I started looking at pie crust recipes and gawked at the buttery, shortening-filled mess that pie crust turns out to be.  Pie lovers, I apologize if you did not know this yet.  If it’s any consolation, I have every intention of continuing to eat pie moving forward in life.  However, I have no intention of making it.  I hope you don’t think less of me for it.

Anyway, after very little consideration, I switched gears toward a crisp.  Lest you think that crisps are free of butter, I shall disclose that they are in fact quite buttery, but far less time consuming and less shortening-y than a pie.  It’s basically oatmeal with fruit in it!  (Wishful thinking alert!)  I took my first bite of raw rhubarb as I chopped it up, and I was pleasantly surprised.  It reminded me of a super tart Granny Smith apple mixed with a lemon.  It has pucker but with an addicting crispness.  Since we’re talking about dessert here, however, I knew that a lot of sugar would be involved to counteract the tartness of the rhubarb.  Never having used the stuff, I wanted to check out a real recipe.  Following my cooking motto (“when in doubt, check with Mark Bittman”), I found a recipe from Mark’s Minimalist archive and got to work.  The recipe was actually for rhubarb-only crisp, but I was set on strawberries, so mine was a combo.  Traditional, but certainly not boring.  I delighted in the sweet-tart ooey-gooeyness of the fruit layer, and the rich, nutty, never-gets-soggy topping.  Go a la mode or a la whipped cream, if you can.

In an effort to keep cholesterol down, you could go a little lighter on the butter (cutting out a tablespoon wouldn’t be noticeable), or you could just use less topping, leaving pockets of fruit uncovered.  I actually did both of those things, and no one has complained yet.

One of my favorite things about a fruit crisp is its versatility.  As long as your proportions of ingredients are right, use as much or as little topping as you want.  Only have 4 cups of fruit instead of 5?  Whatever.  Also, you can make this again in August with peaches and blueberries—or with whatever your little heart desires!  When summer fruit arrives, I have trouble saying no, so I often end up with pounds of gorgeous fruit and no way to eat them all.  Enter crisps and cobblers and pies (for the brave), oh my!  I hope this recipe serves you well through summer’s fruit bowl.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist, May 19, 2010


Some notes: Feel free to use only 5 tablespoons of butter instead of 6.  If you have less fruit than this recipe calls for, it’s no big deal.  You may want to cut back on the topping ingredients a little, but don’t worry about making the proportions perfect.  Serve with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream and a mint leaf.

Time: About 1 hour, largely unattended

Makes: Yield: 6 to 8 servings

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing pan

1 to 1 1/5 pounds rhubarb, trimmed, tough strings removed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 2-3 cups)

1 to 1 1/5 pounds strawberries, trimmed and halved (about 2-3 cups)

3 tablespoons white sugar

1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice

1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste

Pinch salt

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup pecans (optional), if not using then go heavier on the oats

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking or gratin dish with a little butter. Toss rhubarb and strawberries with white sugar, orange or lemon juice and zest, and spread in baking dish.

2. Put the 6 tablespoons butter in a food processor along with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt, and pulse for about 20 or 30 seconds, until it looks like small peas and just begins to clump together. Add oats and pecans and pulse just a few times to combine.

3. Crumble the topping over rhubarb and bake until golden and beginning to brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

Freya Bellin writes alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Ethnic Excursion: Kalustyan’s in NYCCook it, Don’t Buy It, and A Duck of My Very Own.


4 Responses to "Perhaps It Won’t Be a Pie"

[…] Bellin writes alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Perhaps It Won’t Be a Pie, Ethnic Excursion: Kalustyan’s in NYC, and Cook it, Don’t Buy It. Share […]

[…] Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include The Sandwich of Champions, Perhaps It Won’t Be a Pie, and Ethnic Excursion: Kalustyan’s in NYC. Share […]

[…] Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include Red, White, and Tipsy, The Sandwich of Champions, and Perhaps It Won’t Be a Pie. Share this:ShareEmailTwitterFacebookRedditStumbleUponYahoo BuzzDiggLike this:LikeOne blogger likes […]

[…] You know, like apple crisp, but with sweetened, mashed, roasted pumpkin instead of apples.  The last time I got too lazy to make pie, it worked perfectly.  However, even a topping of oats, butter, and sugar couldn’t mask the fact […]

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