A firm favourite throughout the UK for decades, odds are that you’ve eaten a rhubarb crumble or three during in your lifetime. A staple of the school canteen, the perfect pudding for after Sunday dinner, and perfect with custard; the crumble’s history is one of modest beginning.
The simple crumble has been gracing the dining tables of Ireland for over half a century. Cementing its place as a family favourite during World War II, the crumble rose to popularity for its simplicity, but also as a necessity. In a time when the rationing of many ingredients made pastry making challenging, the crumble was the solution. The crumble wasn’t always sweet, though; savoury crumbles were also common (a substitute for the classic meat pie). To further reduce the use of rationed goods, breadcrumbs, fats and/or oatmeal could be used to bulk the mix out. Sugar was a real treat so it would have been used sparingly. Fruit, however, was often readily available, with many households growing their own. The crumble is a perfect illustration of the creativity employed to bring about a sense of normality in an otherwise difficult time.
But, which fruit?
There is a great debate in our house as to the ‘best’ crumble filling. For me, it’s apple or cherry but I also appreciate the appeal that the sharp, sweet flavour of rhubarb brings. I am writing this recipe in June, when rhubarb is at its prime. Naturally, then, this recipe is for a classic rhubarb crumble. You can pretty much substitute the rhubarb for the same weight of any fruit. (Apple and blackberry, or gooseberry work well too!)
My fruit crumble has a 50:50 ratio of fruit to crumble. I like a lot of crumble topping, and I am not willing to yield on this. You can never have too much crumble. I also detest oats in my crumble topping. And, I can certainly understand the reason why a war-time housewife would want to use them. I just don’t need to bulk my mix. I want lots of butter and sugar, please!
The Definitive Rhubarb Crumble
- 500 g rhubarb
- 100 g caster sugar
- 3 tbsp red wine (optional)
For the crumble topping
- 300 g plain flour
- 150 g salted butter chilled
- 100 g caster sugar
- 50 g dark brown sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Next, cut the rhubarb into thumb-length pieces and place in a saucepan with the sugar (and wine, if using.)
- Cook the rhubarb on a low heat (my hob has six settings, and I use the second) for 10-15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is slightly soft but still holds its shape.
- Remove the pan from the heat and spoon the rhubarb into an oven-proof dish.
- In a mixing bowl, work the butter into your flour until you have a fine breadcrumb texture.
- Add the sugars and mix to thoroughly combine.
- Sprinkle the crumble topping on top of the rhubarb filling, ensuring you have an even layer.
- Bake in the oven on the middle shelf for 40-45 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown.
- Remove the crumble from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Enjoy with custard, cream, ice cream, or however you like.