Rhubarb Pear Crisp! + When I Developed a Fear of Produce

labelcrisp sideIt’s happened to all of us. From the white dried up carrot in a bag of otherwise crisp and juicy specimens, to the bell pepper that shocks you with its foul clustered contents; or, perhaps, the blueberry that sickeningly gives way beneath your touch, or (horror of horrors) the slime of spinach that sticks to your hand in a string when the bag seemed so fresh; even the garlic that disintegrates under your knife–rot. It’s rot, people, and none of us like it.

I’m sure it is in some way natural to be repelled by rotting produce–probably related to whatever it is in our biology that makes sweet tastes attractive and bitter flavors repulsive. We shouldn’t like rot–it might make us sick.

If you want to develop a severely acute fear of rot, however, just read H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.” In the story, a color arrives (via a meteor with strange organic properties) on a remote New England farm, poisoning the earth, the animals, and eventually the people. “The color” lives in the well and slowly calls forth all life in the vicinity, feeding on it and looking towards the stars from whence it came. The rot has a particular grayish, wasting quality, turning organic life brittle and dusty. This is where my newly concentrated fear comes in.

pearsI was going to give you a gnarly quote here, but I think that would put those of you who have lasted this long off my blog for good. In short, I never thought I could be legitimately afraid of my vegetable bowl around 12:00 am–alas, it is possible.

Now, to my point–these fruits were not rotten at all when I made them! Swear to Cthulhu!

pears choppedribbonsAt the cooking class that prompted my experiments with pea shoots and tendrils, we also made a rhubarb crisp. The poor Roomz has been wanting to experiment with rhubarb, and careless me made them in a fit of obliviousness when she was out of town. Luckily, rhubarb and I got along, so I’m sure it’ll make a comeback.

buttercrumble toppingsI decided to use a mixture of rhubarb and pear, since I had some juicy pears laying around. This crisp gets some kick from orange zest, and it really comes through in the finished product. I’m convinced you can put just about anything in a crisp–I would, in future, try a mixture of raspberries and rhubarb, and I’m looking forward to a future with peaches in it.

ready to bake topready to bakeWhen I make this for le fiancé, I’ll have to ditch the crisp topping and go for a cobbler (biscuit topping). He hates anything resembling a whole grain or nut, remember? Perhaps that’s why I, erm, went a bit overboard with the topping to fruit ratios…

crisp angle viewfinished crispRhubarb Pear Crisp
Serves 8

Crisp Topping
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour (I used whole wheat, and it was great)
⅓ cup agave nectar (or ½ cup brown sugar, packed)
½ cup sugar
1 cup oatmeal
⅓ cup chopped toasted nuts (optional–I used walnuts)
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, cold

Fruit Filling
4 cups of rhubarb (about five stalks)
4 cups of pears (about 4-5 pears)
¾-1 cup sugar (I used this crazy “raw” sugar I had on hand, and it was fine)
1 ½ teaspoons grated orange zest (about 1 orange’s worth)
Juice of 1 medium orange (my Cara Cara proved too large–too much juice)
3 Tablespoons cornstarch

For Whipped Cream (optional)
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

1. Stir all dry ingredients and agave nectar in large bowl.

2. Cut cold butter into ½ inch cubes and use a pastry cutter or your hands (my method) to mix until crumbly. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the filling:

1. Prep rhubarb: Wash stalks and use a paring knife to peel tough edges off (optional). You just use the knife and your thumb to pull the tough skin away from the stalk at the top, and it peels off in one long, lovely ribbon. This is cathartic. (Read: Peeling rhubarb was one of my jobs in Belfast, and old habits die hard in my world. You may choose to be equally or less compulsive in your own rendition of this recipe.) Cut into ½-inch pieces.

2. Prep pears: peel, core, cut into ½-inch pieces. I spritzed mine with lemon juice to keep them from browning while I was prepping.

2. Add sugar and zest to fruit and stir.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk juice of orange with cornstarch. Add liquid to fruit and stir.


1. Pour toppings into an 8 x 11 inch baking dish–or whatever it fits in. You want it to be piled up almost to the top, with about 2-3 inches of depth.

2. Blanket with crumble topping.

3. Bake at 375 F for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool 5-10 minutes.

Serve with fresh whipped cream* or ice cream.

*Whipped cream: chill bowl and whisk (or whisk attachment) before use. Whip 1 cup of heavy cream on high until soft peaks form–add ½ teaspoon vanilla and 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate or serve immediately. (Omit sugar and vanilla if you want a purer dose of cream!)

crisp betterside view 4

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