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Published June 07, 2009, 12:00 AM

Take the lazy way out with Rhubarb and Peach Crisp

I remembered my mom’s words as I measured flour, brown sugar and oats into the bowl of my food processor. As clear as the music of the birds outside my kitchen window, I could hear her say, “Oh, don’t be such a lazy Susan.”

By: Sue Doeden, Bemidji Pioneer

I remembered my mom’s words as I measured flour, brown sugar and oats into the bowl of my food processor. As clear as the music of the birds outside my kitchen window, I could hear her say, “Oh, don’t be such a lazy Susan.”

It’s what she’d say when she would catch me taking a shortcut. Making my bed in the morning from one side rather than walking around the bed to pull and tuck and fluff. Baking cookies, one recipe after another, without stopping to clean up in between each variety. I would explain I was using my time wisely by taking these little shortcuts. And, here I was, using my food processor to do the mixing for me as I prepared the topping for my rhubarb and peach crisp.

When I have a taste for rhubarb pie at this time of year, I often become a lazy Susan and make a crisp. I find it very easy to defend this shortcut.

You see, I love rhubarb. Though technically it is a vegetable, we treat it like a fruit. Too tart to eat on its own, rhubarb, nicknamed “pie plant,” is often mixed with sugar and baked into a pie. But by mixing rhubarb with sugar and spice and topping it with a crisp mix made of butter and sugar and rolled oats, I can have all the delicious flavor of rhubarb pie without the time and effort involved in making one. It’s the pastry crust, I guess, that makes me want to take the shortcut.

And then there are the bubbles. Sweet and tangy juices that bubble up around the crunchy topping that covers the fruit filling like an old, comfortable blanket. As the crisp bakes, the sight of those bubbles beckons me, and I can’t stop myself from sneaking over to the oven several times to take a peek through the window. It’s just not the same with a pie in the oven.

I like to add some fruit to a rhubarb crisp for added color and complementary flavor and texture. Often my choice is fresh or frozen peaches. Later in the summer, when I can buy sweet, juicy peaches, I don’t even peel them (a lazy Susan shortcut?). I just chop them up to toss with the bits of rhubarb from early summer’s bounty that I store in the freezer. For now, though, frozen peaches are a great substitute for the fresh. No need to allow time for the peaches to thaw. They’re easy to cut into small pieces when they are frozen.

Still warm from the oven, the juices released from the rhubarb and peaches during baking are just the right consistency for slurping. As the crisp cools, the juices thicken and it’s time to serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a puffy cloud of freshly whipped cream.

I’ve gathered rhubarb from the gardens of generous friends. I’ve chopped, mixed and baked. I’ve eaten warm Rhubarb and Peach Crisp all by itself, smacking my lips with each spoonful. I’ve savored a breakfast of Rhubarb and Peach Crisp (vitamin C and fiber, you know) topped with my favorite honey-flavored Greek yogurt. And there’s still some of the versatile crisp remaining in the baking dish, tempting me to swipe my finger through it as I pass through the kitchen.

Call me a lazy Susan. And call me content.

Lazy Susan’s Rhubarb and Peach Crisp

Fruit Filling:
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, sliced into

1/2-inch pieces, about 6 cups
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen peach slices or 1 pound fresh peaches, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup uncooked quick or old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter, divided

Generously coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square glass baking dish with butter. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the rhubarb, peaches, sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.

For topping, measure 1 cup flour, rolled oats, dark brown sugar, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl and mix together. Add 6 tablespoons of the butter and mix it into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse meal. This can also be done in the bowl of a food processor. Crumble the topping over the rhubarb-peach filling in the baking dish. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoon of butter into small pieces and dot over the topping.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbling. Makes 4 to 8 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Remember the zest of a lemon is the colored part of the peeling. Leave the bitter white pith behind.

--I often use dark brown sugar when I want a deeper flavor. Brown sugar gets its distinct flavor from the presence of molasses. Dark brown sugar has more molasses than light brown sugar. In this recipe, either will work.

--A pound of fresh berries can be used to replace the peaches. Sweet, succulent, fresh-picked strawberries are a favorite of mine.

--If you are preparing Rhubarb and Peach Crisp for guests, bake it in buttered custard cups or ramekins for individual desserts.

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