Be a rube

Today is St. George’s Day, an important English holiday that I learned about yesterday on Becks & Posh. If you don’t know who St. George is, this web site informs you that:

One of the best known stories about St. George is his fight with a dragon. But it is highly unlikely that he ever fought a dragon, and even more unlikely that he ever actually visited England. Despite this, St. George is known throughout the world as the dragon-slaying patron saint of England.

I’ve never fought a dragon, but I have been to England, so I guess that’s why I was passed over for sainthood. Hmm, I’ve never been to Belgium. I could totally be patron saint of Belgium. Or of fries.

Er, anyway, to celebrate St. George’s day, we slew some rhubarb (meaning Iris and I bought some at Frank’s Produce, at Pike Place Market) and made Nigella Lawson’s rhubarb crumble. Actually, we made it yesterday.

If rhubarb crumble isn’t the national dish of England, it should be.

Aside from the fact that rhubarb crumble is delicious and appropriate to the holiday, I wanted to do a little science experiment. Last time I made rhubarb crumble, I thickened it with cornstarch. It was good, but had a distinct chalky cornstarch texture. So this time I made two batches, one with cornstarch and one with arrowroot starch. I got the arrowroot at Uwajimaya. Iris was also along for that shopping trip, and when we got to the starch aisle she said in a booming voice, “Dada, GRAB. THAT. STARCH.”

I grabbed that starch and noticed a couple of things about arrowroot, or at least this particular batch. First, it comes in hard little chunks rather that smooth powder like cornstarch. Second, when you mix it into a slurry, it has a weird smell. I was afraid the smell would permeate the crumble.

No worries! The arrowroot crumble won hands-down: it was less runny but had almost no artificial starch texture, and no weird smell, either. Iris cleaned her plate. If she keeps this up, she will be patron saint of rhubarb farmers.

Here’s one of the crumbles coming out of the oven, still bubbling:

Rhubarb

We attacked it, St. George-style, and soon it looked like this:

Rhubarb

Here it is, plated up with whipped cream, since we had no double cream:

Rhubarb

And here’s the recipe:

RHUBARB CRUMBLE
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson
Serves 2

This recipe is halved from the one in the book; feel free to redouble it.

For the filling:
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon arrowroot starch, dissolved in a couple of teaspoons of water

For the topping:
1/2 cup (2-1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons (half-stick) butter, cold and diced
3 tablespoons (1.25 ounces) sugar
3 tablespoons (1.25 ounces) brown sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Combine the filling ingredients in a saucepan. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the sugar is well dissolved, about five minutes. Turn out into a small baking dish.

  2. Combine the flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture with your hands until you achieve a coarse, powdery texture. Stir in the sugars.

  3. Pour the topping evenly over the rhubarb filling. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until bubbly and well-browned. Let cool at least five minutes before serving; serving at room temperature is fine.

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15 thoughts on “Be a rube

  1. Liza

    I use arrowroot, and it came in a little jar from Whole Foods as a uniform white powder. I’m sure it cost 300% of what it did at Uwajimaya, but it’s aesthetically pleasing, which, as you note elsewhere, is important.

    I’ve never noticed a smell because I’m always adding it directly to whatever I’m making, at the very end (as I will tonight when I make my awesome Ma Po Tofu).

  2. mamster Post author

    This one goes out to my Ma Po crew.

    I sort of figured my arrowroot had street cred. I think it was $1. You can keep your Vanilla Ice brand starch. Chunk-style or no style, I say.

  3. Neil

    I think the last time I got arrowroot it was from a bulk bin in a natural food store – possibly even the Fred Meyer health food section with the bulk spices. Can’t get cheaper than that. And yes, it was a fine white powder.

    You didn’t get the starchiness using arrowroot because it cooks and thickens at a lower temperature than corn starch, which requires a full boil for a couple minutes to fully cook.

  4. sam

    I grew up on crumble, although as I child I wasn’t too keen on rhubarb, I preferred the apple and blackberry variety. But now I love rhubarb. I wanted to make a rhubarb and custard trifle for “What’s for Pud?” but because of the rains, the rhubarb isn’t quite yet in season here.

    Now I have to say – we never ever but any thickener of any kind in our crumble base. Just fruit and sugar. That’s it.

    Thank you for taking part!

    Sam

  5. mamster Post author

    Hi, Sam. Thanks for dreaming up the event.

    I’ve made rhubarb crumble (and crisp) without the thickener, but I just like it better with. Probably half the arrowroot would be fine, though.

  6. mamster Post author

    Oh, and Neil, that probably explains why the cornstarch crumble was runnier, too.

  7. Kimberly

    I, too, got some rhubarb from Frank’s last Friday. I stewed it with a little honey, and have been eating it mixed into greek yogurt for breakfast. Yum. Will be back for more in a couple of days… and may have to make crumble with some of it.

  8. Fiona

    Hi Matt,

    Your crumble looks spectacular! As a Brit, I have some very warm memories of cooking rhubarb crumble in H.E (or home ec) and eating 3/4 on the bus home scooping with my fingers….mmmmmm!

    When I have cooked it in the past i have never used a thickener such as arrowroot or corn starch. I have covered chopped, uncooked rhubarb in small blobs of butter, sugar and ginger and blanketed that with the crumble mixture. Of course, thanks to Mrs Lancaster, I ALWAYS use my fingers and never my hands to make the crumble.

    Hope to see you soon! Fiona

  9. mamster Post author

    Thanks for all the comments, folks. Fiona, I’m glad to hear that rhubarb crumble is an actual English dessert, since you never know with Nigella. Ginger sounds like a great addition. If we had made rhubarb crumble in high school, it would have sucked a lot less.

    I made this again yesterday for tea and it’s still great. As for the thickener issue, I’ve made rhubarb crisp without thickener before, and I just like rhubarb desserts better with a little starch.

    Oh, and I have no idea who Mrs. Lancaster is.

  10. Fiona

    Mrs Lancaster was my very strict but squeaky H.E teacher….

    Not sure if you are aware, but crumble is v. popular for dessert, probably as it’s so easy to make. Apple crumble and custard is a thing of beauty….

    Bit of trivia about Nigella Lawson; She is the daughter of Nigel Lawson Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nigella is considered a bit of a posh babe and reached considerable popularity very quickly in the mid 90s. VERY buxom, she tends to do a lot of her TV show in a revealingly cut blouse with the prep table set way too low if you catch my drift. I know a lot of men in the UK who REALLY seemed to enjoy her show!!

  11. mamster Post author

    Oh, I get it. I figured Mrs. Lancaster was some archetypal English cookbook author.

    I’ve never seen Nigella’s show, but I’m familiar with her various laudable qualities.

  12. Sandy Caley

    Hi Everyone

    Well, I’m a Kiwi from li’l ole New Zealand and I regularly get Delia Smith’s newsletter. I read it tonite (28/2/07) and saw a mention of NL’s rhubarb crumble recipe which I’d never heard of. I googled it and hey presto, your website was first cab off the rank and here I am! Very interesting reading everyone’s comments. Of course it’s summer here in NZ and I have a big crop of rhubarb ready for the picking and guess what I’m going to make 2moro!!! Yum!

    Sandy, Whangarei

    PS: I lived in the UK for 3 years in the 1980’s and just loved it.

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