A Hubbub of Rhubarb

On May 11 the rhubarb showed up in my backyard in downtown Whitehorse, heralding a new season of crisps, pies, jams and chutneys.

I look forward to weeks of roaming the yard, knife in hand, and when I’ve exhausted my own supply, moving into the alleys where it grows exuberantly along the fences. Garden rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is not an indigenous species in the Yukon; settlers brought it here. (As Yukon biologist Bruce Bennett once pointed out, a rhubarb patch in the bush is a reliable marker of a former dwelling place.)

The indigenous wild rhubarb (Aconogonon alaskanum) grows abundantly in parts of the Yukon, but it’s a different species, a member of the buckwheat family. Though the young stalks and leaves are edible (the leaves of garden rhubarb are toxic to humans) wild rhubarb doesn’t have quite the juicy, crunchy, sour appeal of garden rhubarb. Having a dish of wild rhubarb is like eating your greens, not your dessert.

Garden rhubarb is such a good producer the tendency is to just keep harvesting, resulting in a pile-up of chopped rhubarb in bags in the freezer. A hubbub of rhubarb!

This year, I’ve figured out what to do with the backlog: roast it. The idea came from a recipe by Posie Brien on the King Arthur Flour baking site. Roasted rhubarb is sweet, tart, rich, slightly caramelized—an entirely different beast from stewed rhubarb, a rescuer of freezer-burned rhubarb, and the last word in versatile. As Brien says, it can be mixed with yogurt or whipped cream for a quick dessert, layered with custard and streusel in a parfait, dolloped on your morning porridge, or used as a filling in all the old classics—pies, galettes, crisps, squares.
When cooked right down until it’s sticky, the texture and even flavour of roasted rhubarb is reminiscent of cooked dates, which suggests, of course, date squares. My mother had a repertoire of three desserts; family treasures she baked over and over again, and one of them was date squares. I went back to her recipe, actually her Mom’s recipe—I can still see Granny’s handwriting on the stained blue card—and adapted it to my new favourite rhubarb treatment. It worked beautifully.

Roasted Rhubarb
Yield: 3 cups

Roasted Rhubarb

Inspired by Posie Brien at kingarthurbaking.com


  • 10 cups rhubarb, fresh or frozen, chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated or brown sugar, * packed
  • 1/2 cup low bush cranberries (optional, for colour if your rhubarb is green)


    1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
    2. Defrost frozen rhubarb in a colander set over a bowl, and discard any melt-water that accumulates in the bowl.
    3. Toss fresh or thawed rhubarb and cranberries, if using, with sugar and spread out in a 9 x 13 baking dish.
    4. Roast for 40 to 60 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes, until all the liquid has evaporated and rhubarb is just beginning to caramelize at the edges.
    5. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks and in the freezer for up to six months.
Roasted Rhubarb Squares
Yield: 20 squares

Roasted Rhubarb Squares

These squares are fabulous just eaten in the hand, but if you want to get fancy, serve with a dollop each of whipped cream and rhubarb filling on the side.


  • 2 2/3 cups quick cooking oats*
  • 1 1/3 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups cake and pastry flour
  • 1 1/3 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 lb. 4 oz. roasted rhubarb (about 3 cups)


    1. Preheat the oven to 350F and place a rack in the middle position.
    2. Melt butter. Mix oats, brown sugar, flour and soda together in a bowl. Gradually add melted butter to the mixture, stirring all the while. When combined, divide more or less in half. Pat one half into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan.
    3. Drop rhubarb filling by spoonsful evenly over the oatmeal base and smooth with the back of a spoon. Crumble second half of oatmeal mixture over the filling, being careful to cover it well, then gently pat with the back of the knuckles so the topping joins together nicely.
    4. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the topping is golden brown. Cool on a rack before slicing and serving.


My mother’s/grandmother’s recipe is quite specific: the oats must be quick-cooking in order to get the right texture in the topping. I’ve tried with rolled oats and it ends up too crumbly. If you only have rolled, whizz them in the food processor a few times until the flakes are a quarter of the original size.

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