Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Rhubarb recalls sweet childhood summers

Cathi Litzenberger has fond memories of sitting around the kitchen table with her siblings, tucking into fresh rhubarb dipped in sugar

When I was a youngster, rhubarb was the first real treat of the spring season for us kids.

Mom would sit us around the kitchen table, which was covered in a plastic tablecloth, and give us each a freshly picked stalk of rhubarb. She then put a large bowl of sugar in the centre into which we would proceed to dip our stalk and chew the end a little before returning to the bowl for more sweetness. By the time the half a dozen or so of us were finished, there were thick, sticky trails of pink sugar pinwheeling between each of our places and the sugar bowl. Double-dipping was a joy and I’m sure it built up our immune systems as well. I always loved that sweet and sour combination.

Since I started picking a few strawberries last week and was gifted a bunch of rhubarb (mine was a dismal failure this year, producing a mere three stalks), I’m enjoying the combination of these two spring delights. There’s nothing like the special taste of sour rhubarb with sweet strawberries, especially when the strawberries are locally grown. Today’s recipes include a trifle and a delicious crumble that would be perfect for Father’s Day.

Strawberry Rhubarb Trifle

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

3 cups whole milk

5 egg yolks, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


4 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 prepared angel food cake (8 to 10 ounces), cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

Whipped cream, optional

In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch and milk until smooth. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.

Stir a small amount of hot mixture into egg yolks; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl. Cool to room temperature without stirring.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring the rhubarb, sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat; cook and stir for 5-8 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and mixture is thickened. Cool completely.

In a bowl, beat the cream until stiff peaks form. Gradually fold a fourth of the whipped cream into the custard. Fold in remaining whipped cream.

Place half of the cake cubes in a 2-1/2-qt. trifle bowl. Spread with half of the rhubarb mixture; top with 1 cup of strawberries and half of the custard. Repeat layers. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Add  a dollop of whipped cream if desired

Rhubarb Strawberry Crunch

1 cup white sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups sliced fresh strawberries

3 cups diced rhubarb

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup butter

1 cup rolled oats

Ice cream, optional for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).  In a large bowl, mix white sugar, flour, strawberries and rhubarb. Place the mixture in a 9×13 inch baking dish.

Mix 1-1/2 cups flour, brown sugar, butter and oats until crumbly. You may want to use a pastry blender for this. Crumble on top of the rhubarb and strawberry mixture.

Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until crisp and lightly browned.  Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream if desired.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and with a full-page Sunday feature every month.