Peach Rhubarb Oatmeal Bars
I’m on the East Coast where summer is in full swing. Although in many ways, it’s already swung; it’s practically fall. This week I crunched on leaves with my niece and waved my nephew off to his first day of (pre-kindergarten) school.
Back in California, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. When I left, we were up to our elbows in peaches (I’ve been regretting not scarfing one more down on my way to the airport). Peppers are piling up and heirloom tomatoes are just entering their swoon-worthy stage.
One curious springtime stowaway sits nestled among the tomatoes and greens at our local farmer’s stand: rhubarb! The stalks are thicker, greener, muddier than the perfect thin ruby ones I look for in the spring, but still… there they are.
Paula noticed them first, and came home with a big bundle. I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but I seem to have gotten Paula just as excited about rhubarb as I am (and that is saying something). I think it has something to do with this recipe.
In June, I finally got the chance to bring Paula to the Madison farmer’s market. One of the best farmer’s markets in the country, it’s not just known for its plants and produce, but also for its bread and cheese. We planned to indulge in plenty of cheese curds (mission accomplished!) and a breakfast pastry or two… for old time’s sake.
As a kid, my favorite farmer’s market treats (besides cheese curds and honey sticks) were the tangy, buttery rhubarb oatmeal bars at one of the bakery stands. I occasionally went through other phases, like the bigger-than-my-head two-dimensional cinnamon sugar pinwheels we called “elephant ears”, but I nearly always came back to the fruity oatmeal bars. (Kicking off a lifelong habit of choosing pie over cake.)
This year, though, we missed out. Having mistakenly saved our appetites for the chèvre croissants at L’Etoile—which turned out to be closed—I led Paula around the capitol square right past the rhubarb bars. (Kicking off a serious craving.)
Soon after, we came home to California, spotted some rhubarb, and bam: a summer tradition was born. Let me be more specific: a weekly tradition, this summer. Not a yearly summer tradition, yet…
(My former summer tradition was to blend up a batch of gazpacho once a week, alternating with zaru-soumen or soba noodles, just to survive the heat… but that was back when I lived in places with hot summers!)
I can’t even count how many weeks I’ve made these rhubarb bars in a row, and each time Paula has begged me to add the recipe to the blog, while I’ve stubbornly, blindly protested: “Rhubarb is for springtime! We just missed our chance; we’ll have to wait all the way until next spring now!”
Well I’ve changed my mind. I see the error of my ways. If rhubarb is more readily available in Santa Barbara in the summer than in the spring, then rhubarb recipes in August are still 100% legitimately seasonal, at least for Santa Barbara and its wacky (yet sublime) weather patterns.
The rhubarb peach combination came about when Paula excitedly came home with (not enough) rhubarb, and I looked around our counters for something to fill out the fruit layer of the bars. The pockets of sweet peaches balanced out the puckery bites of tangy rhubarb—I like to keep things tart and tangy by adding a bare minimum of sugar—and the peach and rhubarb flavors seemed surprisingly happy together.
If you’re not lucky enough to have peaches and rhubarb in season at the same time, you can easily make these oatmeal bars with whatever other fruit is plentiful instead. I’ve made them so many different ways this summer, it’s hard to remember, but I know these were successes:
Rhubarb strawberry blueberry (which I had trouble not pronouncing “rhubarb strawberry blubarb”)
Rhubarb peach blueberry
And what I’m sure would work but I’ve never tried: Peach blueberry. (Because a bakery stand or two at the Madison Farmer’s Market sells amazing Apricot Oatmeal Bars in addition to rhubarb ones, which made me realize this recipe could easily be rhubarb-less, made with pure peaches.)
Note: I’m keeping the amount of fruit flexible here, because I think it’s typical to make oatmeal bars with a little less fruit, but I like to pack in extra (without increasing the sugar) for an even more substantial layer of filling. (It’ll work either way.) Increase the fruit and the bottom crust might be a little more crumbly and unreliable, but no one is going to mind having to eat these bars with a fork rather than fingers. The heavier the fruit layer, the more tart and luscious the bars.
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Peach Rhubarb Oatmeal Bars
(Makes about 15 bars)
[use 3-5 cups of fruit, total, such as:]
~ 2-3 cups rhubarb, chopped (5-8 stalks)
~ 1-2 cups peaches, peeled and chopped (1-2 peaches), or other fruit (e.g., strawberries)
~ ⅓ cup sugar (or more, for less tart bars)
~ 1 heaping Tbsp. corn starch
~ juice of 1 lemon
~ 2-3 Tbsp. water
~ 1 tsp. ground ginger (optional)
Crust and Crumble Topping Ingredients:
~ 1½ cups flour
~ ½ tsp. baking soda
~ ½ tsp. salt
~ 1 stick butter, softened
~ ¾ cup brown sugar
~ 3 Tbsp. cold water
~ 1½ cups rolled oats
How to make it:
1. Combine all filling ingredients in a medium/large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, or until the fruit has started to break down and become soft and smush-able (whether you smush it up thoroughly or not is up to you). Then remove from burner and set aside to cool.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9″x13″ pan with a parchment paper sling (to easily lift out the bars after baking).
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the softened butter and brown sugar. Then, in two or three batches, add the flour mixture from the small bowl, mixing it in until well incorporated. Blend in the water, then mix in the oats (I do this using the hand mixer too, even though a few of them fly).
5. Turn out ¾ of the crust mixture into the parchment-lined pan and use your fingers to evenly distribute and firmly press the crust across the bottom of the pan. Then pour in the fruit filling, and gently spread it out with a rubber spatula. Finally pinch together and crumble the remaining ¼ of the crust mixture over the top of the bars.
6. Bake for 30 minutes (moving the bars near the top of the oven for the last few minutes of baking to brown them a little on top). Let cool completely before slicing into about 15 bars. (Cover and refrigerate extra bars for up to several days.)
Print this recipe! (PDF)
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