I’ll freely admit, I love strawberries and rhubarb together, and right now, t’is the season here in western Washington state. The you-pick fields are in play for the former, and the latter is fat and sassy pretty much everywhere. Seems like a good time for a quick and easy strawberry rhubarb bar.
I love the concept of dessert – something a little rich, a little sweet – just right to finish off a meal. What I don’t love is stuff that’s too sweet or too much. Dessert should put a cap on a great meal, not bury it. I think that’s why I like small bites of something with distinct tartness, as much or more than sweet – That makes dessert more like a between course palate cleanser than anything, and I guess that’s why I love the combination of strawberries and rhubarb.
Strawberries, even at their most glorious ripeness, still have that slightly sour, tangy note that makes them far more interesting than sweet alone. The problem with them is the fact that you can get them year round, which translates to the fact that they suck a lot of the time. April through June, pretty much wherever you are, is the natural peak season for them, and that’s when I get excited.
I stopped by our closest provider this morning and grabbed a quart, fresh from the field, which is right beside the sales shack. In the image below, you’ve got fresh local berries to the left and production grocery store berries to the right. Obvious differences, right? The store bought berries look spectacular – big and uniform. They also happen to not taste half as good as the worst berry in that locally picked quart, so…
Rhubarb is, culinarily, a bit mysterious. Where it first came from is basically unknown – It showed up as a vegetable crop in Europe and Scandinavia in the early 18th century – before that, it was grown medicinally, mostly for digestive issues. And it is a vegetable engaged in fruit-like activity, by the way – it’s kinda like the mirror image of tomatoes in that regard. As far as availability goes, there’s hot house grown and farm grown, and you want the latter, without question. Better yet, grow your own – both strawberries and rhubarb really like full sun, so you can plant a mixed bed of deliciousness that’ll look great to boot. Rhubarb pairs well with raspberries, marion berries, blackberries, and blueberries too, FYI.
Just as with celery, you want rhubarb stalks that are firm and maybe 1” to 1 1/2” thick, with smaller leaves, if you can find them with such. If they’re floppy, or dry and somewhat hollow in the middle, they’re no good. Rhubarb stalks can be eaten raw – They’re like celery in texture, but with a very strong, bitter-tart taste – really quite delightful in a salad. Contrary to common belief, the color doesn’t really matter – Because of variety, they may be green, red, speckled, or pink – If they’re well grown, tasty varieties, and fresh, they’ll be good to eat. We do not eat the leaves, however – they contain high concentration of oxalis acid, which will cause catastrophic liver failure in humans.
I love pie, but it doesn’t last long, and it’s not always conducive to a quick, small snack – So I really like these bars as an alternative. They’re super easy to make, and they store and transport well. This recipe will make a batch big enough for a 9” x 13” baking pan, yielding roughly 16-20 large bars. You can cut the recipe in half for a smaller run if you like.
Urban’s Strawberry Rhubarb Bars
2 Cups Steel Cut Rolled Oats
2 Cups fine diced Rhubarb
2 Cups fine diced Strawberries
1 1/2 Cups Pastry Flour (All Purpose will do)
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
12 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/4 Cup Agave Nectar (or good local Honey, as you prefer)
1 small fresh Lemon
1 small fresh Orange
2 teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste (good quality extract is fine)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Preheat oven to 375° F and set a rack in the middle slot.
You don’t need to grease or flour the pan for these bars – There’s enough fat in the recipe to do the job just fine.
Measure the oats, the flour, the brown sugar, and the salt and toss those all into the baking pan. Mix by hand to thoroughly incorporate.
In a sauce pan over low heat, melt the butter.
Pour melted butter over the bar mixture.
Mix by hand, (or with a wooden spoon if you prefer – I like to feel what’s going on), to incorporate the butter, until the batter starts to clump. If the batter feels really soft and sticky, add a couple more tablespoons of flour to firm things up.
Reserve a one cup measure of the batter, then evenly press the remaining into the base of the baking pan.
Zest lemon and orange, cut both into quarters. Squeeze and reserve one tablespoon worth of lemon and orange juices, and reserve the zest.
In a measuring cup, combine lemon juice, orange juice, agave nectar, vanilla, and arrowroot. Stir with a fork to thoroughly incorporate – This stuff will smell absolutely incredible, by the way…
Thoroughly rinse, trim and fine dice rhubarb and strawberries. Combine these with the lemon and orange zest in a mixing bowl.
Evenly spread half the fruit blend over the batter in the baking pan.
Evenly sprinkle about half of the lemon juice/agave/vanilla/arrowroot mixture over the fruit.
Evenly crumble the reserved cup of batter over the fruit.
Evenly spread remaining fruit and remaining juice blend over that last layer of batter.
Bake for 40-50 minutes until the fruit blend is bubbling nicely and exposed crumble is golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting bars – This will make sure they firm up nicely and cut well.
Store bars refrigerated, in an airtight container, for up to 5 days.