Slicing rhubarb stalks, juicing oranges, hulling berries (“decapitating” says Dad)—slicing and juicing and hulling, repetitive, but not mindless.
Satin ribbons of rhubarb under my fingers
Massaging juice from the lacerated flesh of an orange
A little army of redcoat strawberries marching down my cutting board
The ingredients reintroduce themselves to my senses. I remember our former intimacies.
Strawberries were a seasonal acquaintance of Granny’s. They arrived in her retirement community every April, squatting in green baskets at the roadside berry patch until she invited them home. Sometimes they tagged along when she came to look after me and baby brother. She introduced me to her rubious friends, and with a little saucer of sugar as go-between, our friendship blossomed.
Rhubarb was as foreign as Russia, Rwanda, and Romania, until the afternoon Granny took me to visit neighbors Tom-and-Pirkko (it was always Tom-and-Pirkko, the names like bound morphemes). In addition to a kidney-shaped pool lined with artificial rocks, Tom-and-Pirkko also had rhubarb. Back in Granny’s kitchen (always immaculate, a trait that skipped a generation), she taught me the delicious dangers of Rheum rhabarbaum. Poisonous leaves stripped from jewel-bright stalks, stalks she stewed with sugar to initiate her daughter into the tangy mystery.
Oranges are just oranges to me. For Granny’s family though, oranges were their very hearts, juicy with lifeblood. They left their German immigrant community in Wisconsin for the promise of California’s other gold, the aurulent fruit that flourished in the arid south. Granny grew up amongst the family orange groves, until the Great Depression plucked prosperity from their fingertips and the land was sold. But it is thanks to oranges that I can call myself a third generation child of California soil.
Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler for Granny
- 8-12 ounces rhubarb
- 8-12 ounces strawberries
- Juice of an orange
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
- Pinch of salt
- 2/3 cup almond milk
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- ½ cup vegan butter, chilled
- 3 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ cup turbinado sugar
Preheat oven to 425º F. Slice the rhubarb into segments 1/2” thick.
Hull (decapitate) the strawberries and halve or quarter depending on their size. You should have about 5 cups of fruit (rhubarb is actually a vegetable, only classified as a fruit for purposes of regulations and duties). Toss the fruit (and vegetable) with the juice, sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
Spread the medley in a baking dish (I used a 9” round, but anything goes as long as the fruit fills the dish nearly to the rim) and place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes or until the fruit (and vegetable) is softened and bubbly.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Mix the almond milk and vinegar and let sit for a few minutes (it should look slightly curdled). Cut the chilled butter into the flour and baking powder until most of the butter is broken down into pea-sized bits (or as Granny says: “Every bit of flour is touching some butter”…or perhaps it’s the other way round). Add the almond milk mixture and mix just until a shaggy dough forms.
Take a fistful of dough, round it into something vaguely biscuit shaped, and set it gently atop the prebaked strawberries and rhubarb. Repeat until all the dough has been arranged. Brush the melted butter over the biscuits and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 50 minutes or until the biscuits have a golden California glow.