If I had to pick a favorite fruit, I’d have to narrow it down to two, after which I’d squirm and whine about having to choose just one: rhubarb or passionfruit. Even now as I type it, it seems so twee, like who do I think I am, Marie Antoinette? Why can’t I like bananas like every other asshole?
First, I have to address the issue of being a tortured fruit lover with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s — my Crohn’s, at least — does not like the fruit. If sugar is the culprit, it is distressingly a reaction that does not apply to processed sugars, which my colon seems to have little issue with. I prefer to think it has more to do with the unique fiber of fruits, a theory that gains merit when I point out that apples and pineapples are the worst, while melons and bananas are the easiest. Cooked fruit is no problem at all.
It’s very hard for me to stand in line at the grocery store and watch customers purchase whole quart-containers of lurid, peeled and diced fruit which will almost certainly be their only lunch item based on their painful thinness and bloodthirsty expressions. But you see, I want to be that fruit-eater. I desperately want to just eat an entire mixing bowl of undressed fruit salad, I want to upend whole punnets of raspberries and strawberries into my mouth. I want to sit down with a knife and a pineapple and only one of us is getting out of there alive¹.
That being said, cooking with fruit goes a long way toward satiating myself, and it’s something I have down to a more-or-less mindless art.
But quickly, back to the rhubarb and passionfruit. I love acidity, much more so than sweetness. With such a preference you’d think that citrus would be my vice, but something about citrus’ acrid bitterness can be touch-and-go with me². But sourness is key; I had always considered myself merely tolerant of banana’s bland pap until I had the opportunity to eat a stumpy little tree-ripened “Candy Apple Banana” in Kauai. While the growers emphasize their sweetness, I must respectfully disagree — they are deliciously, delighfully, addictively sweet-tart. It was a banana epiphany. I ate pounds of them. (They were also a superior texture, fleshy rather than the almost bready fluffiness of the dreaded Cavendish banana.)
Both rhubarb and passionfruit are known for being inedible without added sugar, but are less praised for their ephemeral, exotic floral notes. My beloved rhubarb is incomparable, as I confirmed when I purchased a package of artificially rhubarb-flavored gummies in New Zealand that tasted like regurgitated peaches. It was a painful injustice to the Edwardian gravitas of bizarre rhubarb. The leaves of the rhubarb fan out like massive aerial lily pads in a shade of dull evergreen. I love that those uninteresting leaves are totally poisionous as well – they don’t need bright colors or berries to ward you off, you’ll get the hint after you’ve already eaten them. What a passive-aggressive plant! But the stalks, the bright magenta-red stalks, are so acidic that a single nibble will suck the moisture from your entire mouth.
Conversely, passionfruit, or lilikoi, is practically not fruit at all but a papery husk filled with green-yellow snot and crunchy black seeds. But what astounding green-yellow snot it is! The slimy liquid is so saturated with tropical umami, so densely flavored and astonishingly nuanced that even a small amount can be mixed into a pitcher of other fruit juices and suddenly the whole thing is TROPICAL PUNCH! Fresh passionfruit drizzled over plain cheesecake becomes PASSIONFRUIT CHEESECAKE. Lilikoi chiffon pie, the Hawaiian favorite, consists of just a half a cup of passionfruit juice whipped together with eggs and gelatin to make a rage-inducingly excellent dessert.
Sadly short of having passionfruit to work with, I am happy to make do with rhubarb. Today a pile of such freshly cut (but overpriced) rhubarb wooed me into taking a sack of it home, and I did what I do best: I made up a crumble.
this makes a 9×9 square pan
for the crumble, a Nigella Lawson recipe tweaked almost beyond recognition
¾ C. unbleached flour
¼ C. untoasted wheat germ
¼ C. whole wheat
1/3 C. rolled oats
3 Tbl. unbleached sugar
3 Tbl. demerara sugar (Nigella specifies this is for “crunch” and I agree)
½ tsp. salt
the zest of 1 lemon (save the lemon)
1 (4 oz.) stick of butter, melted
- Put everything but the melted butter into a bowl and toss together, making sure the lemon zest isn’t clumping. Add melted butter and stir until incorporated. Set aside.
for the rhubarb filling – in this case I realized that 1 ½ lbs. was not enough and added some raspberries, but the raspberries could have been practically anything — I’ve done mango, apples, pears, strawberries and plums
1 ½ lbs. rhubarb (or 2 lbs. and omit the other fruit), sliced into ½-inch chunks
1 C. frozen raspberries
¼ heaping C. of brown sugar
juice from half a lemon
very tiny dash of vanilla
- Toss everything together in a bowl and turn into a 9×9 pan.
- Top with the crumble and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until juices bubble up the sides of the pan. If the crumble has not browned at all, I recommend a few WATCHED! minutes under the broiler until toasted.
You’ll notice the recipe has very little sugar, and this is intentional. The topping is fairly sweet, and the rhubarb is left to be itself. The added lemon juice isn’t so much for sourness, but for flavor. You might also note there is no thickener for the fruit — I find this small of a dish doesn’t need it, as well as the fact that the crumble tends to absorb the liquid after a few hours rest.
¹ And by “alive” I mean with a brand new colostomy.
² Not so with grapefruit salad, a recipe I’ll address at a later date.