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Did you ever notice how the names of many common fruits have double meanings? As in, I was feeling just peachy the other day until I saw group of young ruffians bounce a ball off the melon of the apple of my eye, then throw a raspberry his way as if to start a neighborhood rhubarb.
I was musing on this topic on a recent sunny day as I wandered around our yard and came upon our rhubarb patch.
As a kid, my father’s rhubarb patch was filled with robust plants, their fat stalks holding aloft broad, deeply ribbed leaves that provided so much shade that a good-size cat could nap underneath quite comfortably.
In my yard, a mouse would still feel the heat under the leaves of my puny plants.
My childhood fist could barely span the girth of that early rhubarb, and pulling off a stalk took my entire weight, shifted precariously back on my heels, until that strange, white hoof-like thing at the bottom let go, leaving me with a leafy umbrella large enough to fan the Cleopatra of my imagination.
The rhubarb stalks I pull from my plants today are no wider than a carpenter’s pencil. Gone also are the juiciness and flavor of my youth, as well as the tartness that never failed to pucker my face, even when the stalk had been freshly dipped in a Dixie cup of sugar.
Certainly, I’m not as devoted to my rhubarb as my father was to his, and that, I’m sure, makes all the difference. His soil was soft and rich down to about 2 feet below the surface and, even so, he enriched it more each year with aged horse manure and compost. And then he would turn the manure into tea, using it to water the rhubarb first before his other crops.
Truth be told, I never do anything to my rhubarb except harvest its scrawny stalks once a year to make myself some rhubarb sauce, or a strawberry-rhubarb coffee cake or pie. But despite my complaints and feelings of agricultural inadequacy, whatever I make always tastes pretty darn good.
My husband and I recently visited our good friend Charlotte for a work weekend, scraping and painting the shutters of her cottage on a lake in mid-coast Maine. While there, I took note of her rhubarb patch. In this place where winter is nearly twice as long, her rhubarb was more similar to my dad’s than to mine. I stifled my rhubarb envy and managed to enjoy an amazing dessert, a crustless pie of rhubarb and a handful of strawberries left over from breakfast.
This is not a Betty or a buckle or a cobbler or a crisp. And it’s not a slump or a grunt or pandowdy or a sonker, either. It’s kind of a lovely plate of fruit with a sweet and crispy, cookie-like crust on top. Best of all? It’s a snap to make, one of those recipes where the result is much greater than the amount of work required to produce it.
It’s definitely not a crumble, and it’s not quite an impromptu. But let’s not get into a rhubarb about it.
Charlotte’s Swedish Fruit Pie
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9-inch pie plate (not an 8-inch, or a deep-dish plate, just a regular old 9-incher).
Fill the pie plate two-thirds full with peeled and sliced fruit of your choice. You could use apples, a combination of rhubarb and strawberries, a mix of berries, peaches, whatever you’d like.
Combine 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of sugar and sprinkle that mixture over the fruit. Then set the pie plate aside for a moment.
In a medium saucepan, melt ¾ cup of butter. While it’s melting, chop ½ cup of walnuts (or pecans or slivered almonds, whatever nuts you think will taste delicious with your fruit).
When the butter is melted, add 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of flour, 1 egg (unbeaten), a pinch of salt and your chopped nuts. Mix well.
Pour the batter over your fruit. It will be thick, but just glob it on and spread it out as evenly as you can.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or more, until the top is brown and the center is fully cooked.
Original recipe from my good friend Charlotte. Share comments and recipes at firstname.lastname@example.org.