My grandmother was right all along: You can't beat fresh strawberries and rhubarb in the springtime

Especially when they're baked together with a sweet, oat-cinnamon topping

By Bibi Hutchings


Published March 29, 2024 2:00PM (EDT)

Strawberries and rhubarb (Getty Images/Diana Miller)
Strawberries and rhubarb (Getty Images/Diana Miller)

Frannie, my maternal-grandmother and true Southern belle that she was, made rhubarb famous in my family, not only because of how much she loved Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie but because of the way she said it. It became part of my sister’s and my act when we impersonated her as children. With one hand over our hearts and one hand held up as if to stop traffic, we would say the line in unison, “Oh, hon-ney, Frann-ney doesn’t want a thing. I stopped in Merr-reh Est-ah for cau-feh and a piece of straw-berr-eh roo-bahb pie.”  

You see, she drove from Mexico Beach, FL to see us in Mobile, AL, and Mary Ester, FL was along her route, about halfway between us. Mary Ester was also where one of her favorite pitstops was — a quaint, out-of-the-way cafe with wonderful coffee and homemade sweets. In the spring, Frannie’s favorite was their homemade Strawberry-Rhubarb, and she all but sang about it once she arrived for her visit. 

Something about the way Frannie swooned over that pie made me think rhubarb had to be a delicacy, probably something exotic and hard to come by. Strawberries were already a favorite of mine by this time, but I had never seen or tasted rhubarb. My young brain reasoned that if rhubarb was good enough to be in the mix with strawberries, it must be supernaturally delicious.

I suppose I was both right and wrong. Turns out, people are fairly divided on rhubarb. Although beloved by some, it is reviled by many. In fact, just this week while at my local farmers market, I encountered a particularly talkative man who made a point to passionately tell me that the worst thing he had ever eaten in his life was a rhubarb pie. I believe has was triggered by the vibrant fuchsia-pink stalks sticking out of my grocery sack and made a beeline straight for me.

He apparently felt compelled to do whatever he could to dissuade me from bringing my rhubarb home and ultimately suggested I throw each and every piece over the fence, back into the farm from where it had come. He doubted even the field mice would be interested in it. Then reasoned something might possibly be hungry enough to give it a whirl, but only if the creature in question had never tasted it before. All of that plus more delivered rapid-fire in no more than a minute. Strong words from someone I had never met and would more than likely never lay eyes on again. 

Needless to say, I brought my gorgeous rhubarb home and made this wonderful crumb topped cobbler that my husband and I devoured like animals before it was even properly cooled.

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Rhubarb prefers to grow in cooler temperatures; therefore, we have a very short growing season where I live. Only during the early spring do we get fresh rhubarb because cool spring weather is fleeting along the Gulf Coast. The fact that it is available for only a few weeks makes it even more desirable in my opinion, as does its beautiful pink color. I make our rhubarb days last a little longer by saving some to simmer down with sugar and water for the prettiest simple syrup you have ever seen. It gives new life to a Strawberry-Mint Mojito, but it is equally good to prop up a vodka or gin and soda.  

I admit my love for the outrageously tart, ruby-colored, celery look-a-like rhubarb tracks back to my grandmother, Frannie, but I also wholeheartedly appreciate it. Cooked down, it adds interest to sweet fruit desserts, and it could not be better paired than with strawberries this time of year. The two make such a knockout team.

From pies, crumbles and cobblers, strawberry-rhubarb is my pick for the season when temperatures are still cool enough to serve a warm dessert. This is one of my favorites, made even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. 

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Spring Strawberries & Rhubarb
08 servings
Prep Time
20 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes


1 cup sugar, divided

3 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot (or 6 tablespoons tapioca starch)

2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb

2 1/2 cups quartered fresh strawberries

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

8 tablespoons butter or coconut oil (or combo of the two), softened

Optional: maple syrup



  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil or butter a 9” square baking dish.

  2. In a bowl combine 1/2 cup sugar and starch of choice. 

  3. Add rhubarb and strawberries and toss well. Pour into prepared dish.

  4. Place in oven about 10 minutes while you make the crumb topping.

  5. Make crumb topping: Using the same bowl if desired, combine rolled oats, 1/4 cup of sugar, a pinch or two of salt, cinnamon, and flour.*You will either add in the last 1/4 cup of sugar OR use about the same amount of maple syrup for additional flavor. 

  6. Using your fingers or a fork, incorporate the butter and/or coconut oil to make a crumb-like mixture.

  7. Taste for sweetness and adjust if desired.

  8. Sprinkle over prepared fruit, and bake 30-35 minutes.

  9. It will thicken as it cools, so according to your preference, allow time before serving. 

  10. Serve with vanilla ice cream or sweetened fresh whipped cream . . . or alone.

Cook's Notes

Substitution for Rhubarb: Thawed, previously frozen cranberries work great as a substitute for rhubarb. They are just as tart and just as beautifully colored.

Make this a pie: Make or purchase a pie crust and pre-bake it 15 minutes at 350. You may choose to make an egg wash (mix in a teaspoon of sugar to wash) and brush onto the bottom and up the sides of crust to help prevent the dreaded soggy bottom that can occur with fruit pies. Once taken out of the oven, it will thicken as it cools, so factor in plenty of cooling time before serving.

Crumb Topping: We love this topping sprinkled over just about anything—fruit, yogurt, ice cream. If you would like to make some just to have on hand, here is how to do it: Mix it up and spread it out on a baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes at 350F. You can omit the oats and use all flour if desired.

By Bibi Hutchings

Bibi Hutchings, a lifelong Southerner, lives along a quiet coastal Alabama bay with her cat, Zulu, and husband, Tom. She writes about the magical way food evokes memories, instantly bringing you back to the people, places and experiences of your life. Her stories take you all around the South and are accompanied with tried-and-true recipes that are destined to become a part of your memory-making as you share them with your friends and family.         

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Baking Food Fresh Fruit Recipes Rhubarb Spring Strawberries