The Rhubarb Advocate’s Time of Year

You love it or you hate it. Rhubarb advocates are delighted to see those red stems reach out and the dark green leaves unfurl. Others wince and clamp their jaws shut.

Thirty years ago, when we moved to this house, one of the first things I noticed growing here was a rhubarb plant which I always attributed to Adrianna Bunker’s planting sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It was mid-May, and I harvested some of it and turned it into crisp, the first dish I ever made of food grown here on the property. Each May, I make it again to celebrate my good luck in finding a home I love in a community I treasure. And probably because rhubarb is good for me.

As time has gone by, I have become a little more cavalier with this recipe. I no longer measure rhubarb: I chop up enough until it fills the baking dish. Sometimes I add blueberries or apples. Sometimes I thicken it with a couple tablespoons of tapioca instead of flour. Sometimes I skip cardamom—not everyone has it in their spice supply (though it is a good idea to keep some around.) I stretch it by making one and a half recipes of the topping.

This recipe says it makes enough for four to six, but that is a large serving. Figure on two or three if it is teenagers eating, and eight if you have oldsters in the house.

Looking for….hermits. Way back, years ago, we ran a hermit recipe here out of the then-new Maine Rebekah’s Cookbook. I had an email this week from someone asking for a hermit recipe, and I thought, well, there’s lots of good versions out there, maybe it wouldn’t hurt one bit to ask again and see what people have to offer. Do you have an old family hermits recipe you still make? Willing to share?

Rhubarb Crisp
  • Filling
  • 4 cups rhubarb chopped
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (or more to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom (optional)
  • ½ cup water
  • Topping
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  1. Heat the oven to 375º degrees.
  2. Toss together the rhubarb, sugar, flour, spices and water and spread in a greased baking dish.
  3. Mix together flour, oats, brown sugar and melted butter until you have a lumpy looking topping.
  4. Distribute evenly over the filling.
  5. Bake for thirty minutes until the top is golden and you see bubbling on the bottom.
  6. Serves four to six.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.