When I was in third grade my parents bought a house on Mill Street in the sleepy town of North Easton, Massachusetts. The previous owners were either master gardeners or had too much time on their hands. Every square inch of the tree-lined property grew with some sort of fruit-bearing or flowering plant. The long brick walkway burst with daffodils and tulips in the spring and the five-tiered garden flourished in a sunny spot right next to the raspberry bushes. Along one of these tiers, strawberries grew. Early summer promised sweet berries, picked and enjoyed as a snack while taking a break from a Wiffle Ball game.
Thinking back on it now, some of my favorite childhood memories sprouted while adventuring among the trees and plants of that property. The yard was sizable enough to get lost in and provided secret hiding spots. I could go to my favorite place – a weeping willow-sheltered, flat rock – and read a book in blissful peace away from my little brother and his friends. (I quite literally named the rock “Rachel’s Reading Nook” and made a map to mark the spot. I was REALLY into Anne of Green Gables at the time.)
Not too far from my Nook, a jungle flourished. An endless row of giant-leafed plants grew on red-tinged stalks. The leaves were about as big as my torso and looked like they belonged in the humid climate of the Amazon, not here in my New England yard.
I would sit among these plants, armed with a notebook and pen, writing the exploits of a new civilization of little people struggling to survive in a wild, pink-tree-trunk land (I was also into The Borrowers). That’s why I was completely caught off guard when my mother came down the back porch stairs with a kitchen knife and cut the pink stalks right from the ground. I was even more surprised to see these alien stalks show up in an after-dinner pie that smelled of strawberries. In my culinary experience, there was no way this celery-like vegetable could combine with my favorite fruit. Never one to turn down pie, I took an apprehensive bite. Upon realizing tart-yet-sweet strawberries balance seamlessly with what my mother called “rhubarb,” I was careful not to disturb any stalks while writing my stories and made sure to save some strawberries for pie.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Sugar in the Raw
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 quart plus 1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced in half (or quarters depending on the size of the strawberries)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour (you can substitute corn starch here if you’d like a thicker filling)
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make topping: In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugars. Add the melted butter and mix until clumps form. Set aside.
Make filling: Toss rhubarb, strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, flour and a pinch of salt in a 9-inch pie plate (or small-ish casserole dish like I used).
Cover fruit evenly with the topping. Place the pie plate on a foil-lined baking sheet (you’ll thank me for this step later when the foil, and not your oven, is covered in strawberry goo). Bake until topping is golden and fruit is bubbling underneath, about 45 minutes. Allow crumble to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.