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Strawberries and rhubarb

Okay, I admit, until I interviewed Lindsey Crabb of Pie Flutin’ last month and tried her strawberry rhubarb tart, I had never given rhubarb the time of day. Now, I am obsessed with the ruby red jewel that grows like wildfire in the Northern United States and Canada, but doesn’t thrive as well in the South. Like Texas peaches,  rhubarb is even the inspiration for festivals in many a cooler state and in Canada. 

When I began my quest for rhubarb, I couldn’t find any in the produce section of the supermarket and soon learned that its season in our area begins in April and this was only March. 

Still determined to create a dish with this popular combination, I headed to the frozen food section as a second choice, but wasn’t really sure if rhubarb was a fruit or a vegetable. Technically, it is a vegetable. But it is frequently referred to as “the first fruit of the season,” or the “pie fruit.”  If that is not confusing enough, then I find out that the big, green leaves attached to the stalks are toxic to humans and should be discarded. 

You would think I would have given up, but remembering the sweet, tart flavor of Lindsey Crabb’s strawberry rhubarb pies, I trudged ahead to find the brightly colored stalks that I had so often passed right on by at the grocery store.  Finally, I found fresh rhubarb at Whole Foods in Lakewood. The long, thin stalks look very much like celery only they are pale to deep red in color.  

Now that I had rhubarb, what should I make?  Surfing the internet, I came across a jelly maker in Florida who described her difficulty in getting fresh rhubarb locally, but when successful, strawberry rhubarb jam was her top seller. 

I love making jam to have on hand for cooking, topping and giving to friends. 

By combining crushed strawberries, chopped rhubarb, sugar, pectin and lemon juice, I made a strawberry rhubarb jam and it was divine.  The jam had a beautiful red clarity, the sweet after-taste of strawberry and a slight tartness from the rhubarb. (Recipe follows.) 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam 

Ingredients

  • 4 cups strawberries, crushed (I use a potato masher)
  • 2 cups rhubarb, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (1 3/4 ounce) package dry pectin
  • 5 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Combine strawberries, rhubarb, lemon juice and pectin in a large saucepot.
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  3. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil.
  4. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  5. Remove from heat.
  6. Skim foam if necessary.
  7. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
  8. Adjust two-piece caps.
  9. Process 10 minutes in water bath
  10. Or ladle into freezer jars, cool and freeze

Besides the obvious heavenly addition to a warm biscuit, ice cream or a peanut butter sandwich, I decided to use some jam for a fruit and crumb bar.  With its mid-spring appearance at the market, rhubarb desserts are often found on the Easter buffet and I thought the cookie bars would be perfect for spring holidays.  

 Jam-Filled Cookie Bar 

Ingredients 

2  cups baking mix like Bisquick brand

1  cup quick-cooking oats

¾ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup jam or preserves (I used strawberry rhubarb)

Directions 

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease square pan, 9x9x2 inches.  Mix Bisquick, oats and brown sugar in large bowl.  Cut in butter, using fork or pastry blender, until mixture is crumbly. I used my free-standing mixer on low speed, increasing speed as mixture came together.

Press half of the crumbly mixture in pan.  Spread fruit over crumbly mixture to within ¼ inch of edges.  Top with remaining crumbly mixture; press gently into fruit. 

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown; cool. For 24 bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. 

I lined the pan with parchment.  The bar cut easily and came right out of pan.  The cookie mixture was not too sweet so you could taste the strawberry rhubarb filling and they were so easy and quick to make.   

I shared the bars with friends and they received  a "thumbs up" with comments like "awsome." 

I do plan to make a strawberry rhubarb pie with a lattice top crust so the color shows through for my Easter buffet.  If you have a favorite recipe, email shelia0806@sbcglobal.net.

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