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Stephanie Hill/The Lawrence Herald

A sweet Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp is an easy, elegant, rustic way to showcase the season's fruits.

“Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and other varieties have anthocyanins that can help reverse some loss of balance and memory associated with aging.” — David H. Murdock

“Strawberries! Fruit from the heart.” — Anthony T. Hincks

When I was a very young girl, my dad kept a small vegetable garden for a few years. While it didn’t seem to last for many years as our family grew, I was young enough to be fascinated with its order. I recall watching Dad as he planted and staked tomatoes, then surrounded them by marigolds. He explained to me that those unique smelling flowers would protect the tomatoes from pests.

One year, I was especially interested in a new plant he was going to grow. Rhubarb. I had never heard of this plant, and wondered about it as Dad described it as fruit that looked like red celery. At the time, I was well-acquainted with celery from the holiday “relish trays” my grandmothers and mom made that contained both peanut butter- and pimento cheese-stuffed celery. While I never liked the celery (although I love it now) I would lick the peanut butter off, sneak over to a trash can, and furtively toss the celery!

Dad explained that rhubarb was sour (he may have said tart, but my small mind translated it as sour) and needed sugar added to it, but that it made good crisps, pies, or cobbler. I liked desserts, so it sounded like a good food to me!

I was saddened to learn that we could not eat rhubarb that first year, but instead I would have to wait another year before I could taste it as the plant needed to mature and become established. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much more about Dad’s rhubarb growing beyond one fading memory of Dad bringing a small batch of rhubarb into the house near the end of the school year — so it must have been early to mid-May. I recall my childlike wonder with its appearance, and my eagerness to eat the pie Mom was going to bake up.

In addition to following Dad around when he was working, I also loved hanging out with my mom in the kitchen. I am sure I drove her nearly crazy with my incessant chatter and seeming desire to help. However, my intentions to help were not always pure as I ultimately hoped to taste whatever it was she was making — especially if she was baking!

Unfortunately, I do not remember much about “helping” mom as she prepared to bake that rhubarb pie. One part that does stand out was the amount of sugar Mom added to the bowl. She explained that rhubarb pie required more sugar than most fruit pies because of its tartness.

That did not seem like a bad thing to me, but as a mom who often tried to limit our sugar intake — and, let’s be honest, with four kids, who would want them all sugared up — she wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of me eating that much sugar. Still, my dad had fond memories of rhubarb pie and was eager to eat it despite my mom’s mutterings in opposition.

I have another faded recollection of sitting in our avocado green dine-in kitchen and eagerly awaiting a piece of rhubarb pie.

Did I want ice cream on it? You betcha, I did.

I sat with my unbreakable Corelle bowl, and took in the vanilla ice cream as it melted over the pie into all those cracks and crevices. Beyond that, I don’t remember much more than I feel I must have liked it because to this day, I still have positive feelings about rhubarb.

When I recently saw rhubarb in a local store, along with plenty of red, ripe strawberries, I realized both fruits were in season. It then occurred to me that recipes often combine the two ingredients for a fresh, plant-based treat. Therefore, I decided it was high time to research and play with rhubarb in honor of Dad’s rhubarb growing and Mom’s pie. Both fruits are in season now through the first half of June, so it’s the perfect time to give this recipe a try! This is a much lighter dessert than that pie of my childhood, but it earned a tasty stamp of approval from my daughter and husband as well as my taste buds. Let me know what you think.

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals and treats.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

For filling:

3 cups strawberries, halved if large

3 cups of sliced rhubarb

¼ teaspoon orange extract

1/3 cup strawberry jam

2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch (or can substitute 1 teaspoon xanthan gum)

For topping:

1 cup rolled oats (I use gluten-free.)

½ cup sliced almonds or almond meal, or ½ cup more oats (I chose more oats, but I think almonds would be delightful!)

¼ cup all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten-free flour

3 tablespoon softened butter (plant-based if desired) or other vegetable/coconut oil

4 tablespoon maple syrup (can use date syrup, honey or agave, if preferred)

2 medjool dates, chopped, optional (just for a bit extra sweetness if desired; can also use 2 teaspoons of date syrup)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

Place stalks of rhubarb in a glass with 1-2 tablespoons sugar (maple syrup, honey or agave) in 1/4-1/2 cup water and allow it to soak overnight, but really 2-4 hours will do it!

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Lightly coat a square baking dish (8x8, 9x9 or similar dimensions) with nonstick cooking spray, butter or oil of choice.

Slice presoaked rhubarb, and add to a small mixing bowl. Halve strawberries, if needed, and add to rhubarb.

Add orange extract, strawberry jam, and arrowroot (or cornstarch) to fruit and gently stir. Spread fruit mixture into prepared baking dish.

In a separate larger bowl, stir together oats, almonds (if using) and flour. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in rest of ingredients, until mixture becomes coarse and crumbly.

Gently spread oat mixture over fruit. Place in the oven and allow to bake for 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crisp and golden brown.

Serve warm as is or with your favorite topping such as ice cream or whipped topping.

Makes 6 generous servings.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.

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