This will be the fourth time- if not the fifth – that I tried making rhubarb bars. I think they haven’t ever turned out well except for the first time, but Sam thinks that they’re good. He’s biased. I can steal his heart through his stomach. Rhubarb bars are basically rhubarb jam sandwiched in between a crumble. You make the crumbly stuff with oats, butter and nuts, press a bunch of it into the bottom of the pan, dump the jam on top, and sprinkle the last of the crumble on top of the jam (see photo illustration). The bars bake in the oven and hopefully come together as a coherent sandwich of oaty goodness and jam. Problem is, if you get the water balance wrong, they don’t turn into coherent bar things they become crumbly mess things.
Rhubarb was in season at the farmers market for two dollars a pound. I decided to pick some up and make my annual Sisyphean attempt to make good rhubarb bars.
For those of y’all who aren’t from the upper midwest, a bar is as midwestern as hot dish. (as a sidenote, I’m dictating this blog post using iOS voice recognition software. Hot dish came out as “hot bitch.” ) Bars are a baked good, not a cake, made in a rectangular pan and cut into squares. For example, brownies are a subtype of a bar. Midwestern social functions rarely feature cupcakes or cookies, since bars are easier to transport and can be cut on site. Sam rightfully points out that bars have the individual serving and easy finger-eating like cookies, but are easy to make like a cake.
So that explains the “bars” part – do I need to explain rhubarb? Rhubarb is the stalk of a toxic and poisonous plant used historically as a laxative. However, when the stems are pink, they have a VERY TART taste that can be cooked with sugar to tame the sweetness and denature the toxins that would upset your stomach. I’ve eaten raw rhubarb only once, and I still regret it. It tastes more tart and bitter than a lemon. Think celery mated with lemons and lye. We still eat it because rhubarb is a perennial that grows early in the year when most other vegetables still resemble salad.
Sam helped to make the crumble. This was a big risk, but I knew he could handle it. This is because Sam is inflicted with MHT or Male Homogenization Tendency. (It’s in the DSM V – Look it up…) This is the tendency for men, when asked to combine ingredients, will incorporate them to their most homogenous state. This is, of course, the antithesis of crumble which is supposed to be butter and crumbs and not a paste. Sam handled the responsibility admirably, and kept his MHT in check the entire time. We got crumble as opposed to pastry. (Don’t get the mistaken impression that MHT is always a bad thing. Sam creams butter and sugar like nobody’s business.)
Typically I use Barb Perkins’s recipe from the Vermont Valley farm website, but this year I tried a variant of that recipe from Midwest living. The jam was much thinner more liquidy and there was a lot more of it. It was easy to spread over top of the crumble. I used slivered almonds instead of walnuts or pecans, as the recipe called for, because they were on sale at the co-op.
All and all, the bars turned out OK. Pretty good, actually. I’m glad I left the almonds fairly large, as they added a good crunch to the bar. Not too crumbly, either. I may have found a rhubarb bar recipe that I could get behind.