Rhubarb has always had mythical qualities to me. It was something reserved for pies sold in rickety roadside stands on our roadtrips to Michigan in the summertime, far away from my city home. My 5th grade teacher made no effort to promote rhubarb awareness. Although it was Lutheran school, Mrs. Hawk had the scare tactics of a nun. I avoided brushing my teeth for months after she declared that toothpaste could burn a whole in human skin. And after stating that rhubarb leaves were poisonous (is this even true?), I had zero desire to attempt eating the celery of the fruit world. I filed it away in my brain with poison ivy and all other fears of the natural world I had as a city kid.
Fast forward to now; my cheeks are practically blushing from eating so much rhubarb this season. My local producteur (aka my local rhubarb dealer) has taken quite the liking to me. He never lets me pay over 10 euros for my seasonal fruits and vegetables of the week. His affection has become quite public, exclaiming he loved me in front of all his jealous, little old lady customers. “I love your products!” is my platonic way of reciprocating, waving as I walk away weighed down with a week of fruit and veg. Nevertheless, rhubarb has found its way into my selection at least once a week.
Seeking out inspiration, I recently found my recipe book, a comforting reminder of all of my mom’s legendary collection of cookie recipes. Her buttery apricot jam oatmeal bars are a revelation, like two buttery oatmeal cookies sandwiching a chewy, super-concentrated layer of fruit preserves. No offense Smuckers and Blue Bonnet margarine, but I could only imagine what could happen to this recipe with a beautiful French jam and some really good butter added to the mix. But with a growing stock of rhubarb compote in the fridge and little interest from my significant other in helping me out (Q: Rhubarb? A: BEURRRRK!), I updated one of my favorite childhood treats to match my new obsession. I can confirm it is a perfectly portable addition to any picnic, too.
Rhubarb oatmeal bars
For rhubarb compote:
4 stalks rhubarb, sliced into ½’’ pieces
½ cup of sugar, more to taste if desired
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup rolled oats
1 ½ stick of extra-cold butter, cut into ½ ‘’ pieces
1. For the compote, add rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, water and salt in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-low heat. If using vanilla bean, slice in half and scrape the pod with the tip of a knife to remove the seeds. Add the seeds and remaining bean to the saucepan. If using vanilla extract instead, add now. Bring the mixture slowly to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and the mixture has reduced. Let cool. Remove the vanilla bean.
2. Preheat oven to 350° F/175° C. In the bowl of a food processor, mix flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, brown sugar and oats until combined. Drop in the pieces of butter, pulsing after each addition. The mixture should resemble a rough pie dough with pea-sized pieces of butter in it. Be careful not to overmix. If making by hand, mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or with fingertips until incorporated. Reserve 1 cup of mixture.
3. Press mixture into a 9’’×13’’ pan. Spread with rhubarb mixture in an even layer. Sprinkle with reserved oat mixture. Bake for 35 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the rhubarb is bubbling. Let cool before slicing into squares.
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