Monday, May 18, 2015

Rhubarb Crisp: A Blast from the Past

"Planning, preparing and serving meals is an art which develops through inspiration and thought. It may look difficult to the beginner, but like driving a car, swimming or anything we learn to do without thought or conscious effort, it is a skill which grows easier with the doing."

Perky, positive phrases like these, along with recipes for "Wheaties Ting-a-Lings," "Hollywood Dunk" and "Veal Supreme"—described as "popular at Sibley Tea House, near the home of an early Minnesota governor"—littered the pages of my mother's 1955 edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book.

Meant to bolster the confidence of a new generation of middle-class housewives like my mother, saddled with preparing three meals a day for a growing family and a husband who spent his days at the office and came home expecting dinner on the table, Betty was always there with her reassuring, confident wisdom.

"Good eating brings happiness two ways. First, there is the joy and satisfaction of eating delicious, well-prepared food. Then there's the buoyant health, vitality and joy of living that comes from a wise choice of foods. Both are important to good nutrition."

Of course, we now know that Betty was an invention of one of the six milling companies that became General Mills in 1928, created for the purpose of responding to recipe requests from customers. The company decided that having a woman's name to sign the return letters would be more personal, and so combined the last name of a retired company executive with the first name "Betty," which they felt was "warm and friendly."

I'm not sure my mother bought the whole ad-speak tone of the cookbook, but both it and her mother's 1944 copy of The Joy of Cooking—which was written by an actual person, Irma Rombauer—were her kitchen workhorses.

One of my mother's favorite "Betty" recipes was for apple crisp, though rather than the granola-esque crumble topping, it had a crunchy sugar topping that contrasted so satisfyingly with the soft, warm fruit under it. I've used it for many different kinds of fruit, most recently for a wonderful rhubarb crisp that brought back vivid memories of my mother's kitchen.

Rhubarb Crisp

4 c. rhubarb, sliced into 1/2" chunks
2 Tbsp. sugar plus 1 c. for the topping
1/4 c. orange liqueur like triple sec, Harlequin or Grand Marnier
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 c. flour
1/3 c. frozen butter or margarine, in pieces

In medium mixing bowl, combine rhubarb, 2 Tbsp. sugar and liqueur. Set aside.

For topping, in bowl of food processor combine 1 c. sugar, flour and butter or margarine. Pulse until it is the texture of cornmeal.

Place rhubarb mixture in 9" by 12" baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sprinkle with topping mixture from processor. Bake at 350° for 40-50 min. until fruit is bubbly and topping is slightly golden.

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