The strawberry season is in full swing here in the UK. I love strawberries raw just as they are, or maybe sliced onto my overnight oats, or maybe made into jam. They also work very well with rhubarb – and I have a large rhubarb plant in the garden. The combination of rhubarb and strawberries is a bit of a classic – the sharpness of the rhubarb setting off the sweetness of the strawberries.
Rhubarb is a vegetable technically, and there are many varieties, with different coloured stalks from pale pinky reds to green. The colour of the stalk is not an indicator of edibility. It can be ‘forced’ in winter/early spring to produce delicately flavoured, light coloured stalks. I have never been bothered to do that. After about June/July you’re not supposed to pick too much as the plant is gearing up to store energy in the rhizomes to see it through the winter. But it’s ok to pick a couple of stalks here and there (which is exactly what I did!).
Rhubarb leaves contain quite large quantities of oxalic acid which is poisonous – so avoid eating the leaves! The stalks are safe to eat raw or cooked. I have never eaten rhubarb raw, although I have read about people doing this – sometimes dipping the stalk in sugar if it’s very sour. Early rhubarb (especially the forced stuff) is less sour than later in the season.
In west Yorkshire there are nine square miles of the famous Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle. At the height of rhubarb’s popularity the area was 30 square miles, but fashions change, and now there is so much variety of fruit available all year that rhubarb is not eaten as widely as it used to be. The Triangle is especially good for growing rhubarb because of the climate – cold! There is a lovely little article in the Guardian from 3 years ago all about the Triangle with photos from the wonderful Martin Parr.
I found several recipes for this type of bar with a crumble style topping and jammy type filling. I used this one from Italianfoodforever.com and slightly adapted it, as well as converting the measurement units to metric. Some of the recipes I looked at did not cook the strawberries and rhubarb first. I might try one of those next time, but knowing how wet cooked rhubarb and strawberries can be I thought it safer to cook them first. The bars are a sort of flapjack with a jammy centre. The original recipe only had the walnuts in the topping, but I like the taste and texture of them in the base too, so mixed everything together for the base and the topping.
Rhubarb-strawberry jammy filling:
250g rhubarb chopped quite small
250g strawberries cut into pieces
1 tbsp cornflour slaked in a little water
Oaty base and topping:
75g rolled oats
80g brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
130g butter – cut into pieces
5 tbsp iced water
50g chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Make the jammy filling – put everything in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir frequently and simmer until a jammy consistency is achieved – 15-20 minutes. Leave to cool to room temperature – it will thicken up a bit more. You can do this the day before and keep it in the fridge.
Line a 20 cm square tin with baking parchment. Heat the oven to Gas mark 4 (350 deg C).
Put the flour, oats, salt, sugar, cinnamon in a bowl. Rub in the butter evenly. Mix in the walnuts. Mix to a sticky-ish ball with the iced water. It should still be a bit dry.
Take two thirds of the dough and press evenly into the tin. Spread the jam over the base. (You could actually use any jam in this recipe.) Now you need to crumble the rest of the mixture over the top. I sort of pinched bits off and put them evenly over the top of the jam. The jam should still be visible!
Bake in the centre of the oven for about 35-40 minutes. Cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting into 16 squares.
Eat and enjoy! It’s not too sweet – you could actually reduce the sugar even more I think. It depends on your taste. And I think you could increase the proportion of oats to flour to make it slightly more healthy..?! Different flavour combo’s would work too – gooseberry jam with ginger in the flapjack base maybe? Or plum jam with a little star anise? Endless possibilities! Have fun!