While at a dinner, someone recounted a story about hiking near old mine shafts–the houses of the workers were now long gone, but rhubarb patches remained, still growing from over a hundred years ago, a clear testament to rhubarb’s tenacity.
But even rhubarb struggled in the front yard of my childhood home–alongside an apple tree that never managed to actually produce apples and a lilac bush that flowered once every several years. The yard, a burial ground for my goldfish and the few birds we found at the claws of our neighbours’ standoffishly beautiful and violent cat, was made of hard, grey and crumbly brick-like soil. Our rhubarb plant was a success if the plant could give us a few good stalks. The stalks were a deep red from root to leaf and – at least we swear – sweeter and more delicious than any rhubarb we’ve grown since. When we did have rhubarb we would mix it with strawberries and make pies and crumbles, though admittedly, most of the rhubarb in the pies was usually sourced from a family friends abundant rhubarb patch.
I remember pies. more vaguely as they came to progressively be replaced by crumbles. And while I lament the loss of pies, it may just be out of duty as an adorer of pastry. I’m not sure how much I actually miss pies when the focus is on the fruit and quick ease of a crumble gets you there more expeditiously and hence more frequently and with more solid fruit per serving.
Rhubarb is something I’ve had the luck to take for granted, but once I start thinking about it, I find rhubarb so strange and full of contradictions. Tart, yet usually eaten in sweet applications, stringy and watery like celery but still so flavourful. It’s the flavour of childhood summers, and even winters when pies were made from excess rhubarb sliced and piled in plastic bags for the freezer.
When I was younger I loved to mix the sweet fruity juices from the pies or crumbles with whipped cream and call it ice cream (more accurately one could describe it as a very soupy strawberry rhubarb fool). I suppose that’s why a strawberry rhubarb crumble ice cream has been on my mind.
This ice cream just has all the components of a crumble thrown in. I realize that it doesn’t really make sense–lacking any contrast, it really is a poor replacement for warm crumble with heavy cream or ice cream on top. But then when you want something different: something cool and refreshing with tart icy pieces of fruit and bits of crumb for texture, make sense it does.
ice cream base
2 c milk/cream (I used around half and half)
1″ length of vanilla bean
5 egg yolks
5 tbsp roasted sugar
scant 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2-4 big-small stalks rhubarb
a couple heaping handfuls of strawberries
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
pinch salt, cinnamon
1 tbsp each wheat germ, wheat bran, rolled or instant oats OR 3 tbsp rolled or instant oats
For the ice cream base, warm the milk/cream in a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds and transfer them to the milk. Drop in the pod as well. Once the milk is steaming, turn off the heat, cover and let the mixture infuse for 15 minutes.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt. Rewarm the milk mixture, and once the milk is steaming, gradually whisk some into the egg yolks to temper, then transfer the mixture back to the saucepan. Continue to cook gently while stirring constantly, careful not to boil the mixture, until it forms a thin custard that coats the back of a spoon (or reaches 155F). Pull out the vanilla pod or strain if there are lumps. Chill.
For the fruit, preheat the oven to 375F. Slice the rhubarb and strawberries into small pieces. Toss with the sugar and spread out over a parchment lined pan. Bake until the fruit has shrunk and any juices are thick–a few blackened tips are okay, but remove if all the fruit or the juices start to burn. Let cool, then chill completely in the fridge.
For the crumble, cream together all the ingredients in a small bowl. Scatter the crumble over a parchment lined pan (a small pan will do) and bake in the 375F oven for around 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Let cool, then transfer to the freezer and chill.