I confess, I am not a rhubarb lover. I’ll eat it but I don’t go out of my way to make rhubarb dishes. I know a lot of people can’t wait for rhubarb season so here goes, some ideas for the rhubarb lovers.
To take advantage of rhubarb season you can either can or freeze fresh rhubarb. Freezing is an easy way to preserve it when you have a crop coming on all at once. Select tender stalks that don’t have a lot of fibers. Wash the stalks, trim and cut into half-inch pieces. When rhubarb thaws it will be mushy and hard to chop so chopping before you freeze is much easier and any stringy fiber in it will dissolve easily when you make sauce or jam out of it.
If you want to retain more of the color and flavor you can heat the rhubarb in boiling water for one minute and then plunge into cold water. Drain well before packaging. Pre-measuring how much you put in each package will make your life easier later so figure out how much your go-to recipe calls for and don’t forget to label your package with the amount.
You can choose to either dry pack or syrup pack the rhubarb. For the dry pack method, pack the rhubarb tightly into containers, leave some head space, seal and freeze. The head space you leave will depend on the size of your container and the size of the opening. Check out nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/headspace.html for a chart on how much head space you will need.
Using freezer bags or vacuum sealing will eliminate the need for head space. To use a syrup pack you will pack the rhubarb tightly into a container but you will cover it with a cold, 40 percent (heavy) syrup. To make heavy syrup, dissolve two three-fourth cups of sugar in four cups of lukewarm water, stirring until it is clear.
Chill the syrup before using. Pour the chilled syrup over the container of rhubarb, leaving head space, seal and freeze. You can freeze rhubarb in water, unsweetened juice or pectin syrup. The end result may not have the same texture and color as it would in a sweetened pack but it will still be of good quality. (Source: nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/unsweet_pack.html.)
If you prefer, rhubarb can also be cooked into a sauce, cooled and then frozen.
Hot pack canning is also an option for rhubarb stalks. Wash and trim tender stalks. Cut them into half-inch to one-inch pieces. Put the rhubarb in a large saucepan and add a half-cup of sugar for each quart of rhubarb and let it stand until juice appears. Heat it gently to boiling.
Immediately pack mixture into hot jars, leaving a half-inch of head space and remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process both pints and quarts in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes (if you live below 1,000 feet altitude). After processing move the canner off the heat, remove the lid and let it sit for five minutes before removing the jars.
You can find more details in “Preserving Rhubarb” SP 50-882 published by OSU Extension Service and found at extension.oregonstate.edu/food/preservation.
Strawberry and rhubarb seems to be the most popular combination in my circle of friends and family. If you want to take advantage of rhubarb season you can make a strawberry rhubarb jam to enjoy all year long with this recipe from Ball’s Fresh Preserving website (www.freshpreserving.com/strawberry-rhubarb-jam-br4065.html.)
• 1-1/4 lbs strawberries, hulled and quartered, 4 cups prepared
• 1-1/4 lbs rhubarb, trimmed, sliced into one-fourth inch pieces, 4 cups prepared
• 1 vanilla bean
• 5 1/2 tbsps. Ball Classic Pectin
• 3 1/2 cups sugar
1. Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready to use, do not boil. Wash lids in warm soapy water and set aside with bands.
2. Crush strawberries one layer at a time in a 6 quart saucepan. Slice vanilla bean lengthwise and, using a sharp knife, scrape out the seeds, cut bean in half, add seeds and bean to strawberries, crush berries with a potato masher; add sliced rhubarb, gradually stir in pectin; turn heat to medium and bring mixture to a simmer, cook 3 minutes without boiling, to help soften rhubarb. Turn heat to high and bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, stirring constantly.
3. Add sugar all at once, stirring to dissolve. Return jam to a full rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.
4. Ladle hot jam into a hot jar leaving a one-fourth inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rim. Center lid on jar and apply band, adjust to fingertip tight. Place jar in boiling water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.
5. Process jars 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off heat, remove lid, let jars stand 5 minutes. Remove jars and cool 12-24 hours. Check lids for seal, they should not flex when center is pressed.
It’s always interesting to me how something that tastes like raw rhubarb makes its way into cooking. I mean, there are so many things that taste great raw, who puts in the effort to figure out how to make rhubarb taste good? Rhubarb is native to Central Asia and for a long time was used medicinally. In the 17th century it made its way to Western Europe and the French somehow figured out the stalks could be made into a sauce. You can thank Benjamin Franklin for sending a crate of rhubarb roots from London to North America in 1770.
Thanks to British persistence in recipe development, rhubarb became highly popular in the 19th century. It has been popular in northern climates because it is one of the first vegetables to ripen in the spring. So as you enjoy your strawberry rhubarb jam or pie, give a salute to Ben Franklin.