That red color and tart flavor just screams SPRING to me.
Unfortunately, rhubarb has a fairly short growing season in most climates. If we have a mild summer, we can occasionally harvest into late July.
This short season means you need to find simple ways to preserve fresh rhubarb so you can enjoy it year-round, right?
What is Rhubarb
Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable with big beautiful leaves. Despite being a vegetable, the stalks are used with fruits in dessert dishes because it is quite tart.
The leaves are not edible and are actually toxic due to the amounts of oxalates in them. Rhubarb is one garden staple that is easy to preserve in a variety of ways.
Plant rhubarb crowns in fall or early spring, while plants are dormant. Wait until the second year to harvest rhubarb stalks to allow the plants time to get established. Rhubarb thrives in well-drained, fertile soil and full sun. It prefers cooler climates but can be grown in most of the US. Sometimes rhubarb will send out a flower stalk (as seen in the photo). Be sure to cut this off to preserve plant nutrients. Mulch rhubarb in the fall to protect against damage in hard frosts. The crown should be divided every 3-4 years. Yay for free plants!
Ways to Preserve Fresh Rhubarb
Here we go! I’ve compiled a short list of 4 super simple ways to preserve fresh rhubarb. This list is great for folks new to rhubarb or hard-core rhubarb lovers.
How to Freeze Rhubarb
The fastest and easiest way to preserve spring rhubarb is by freezing. I simply wash it, slice it, and then put it in a zip-top freezer bag or vacuum seal bag and put it in the freezer. It really is that simple. Vacuum seal bags are better for long-term storage (like through the winter) but a zipper bag will work just fine if you’re only planning to keep it a month or so.
A new recipe I tried this year is canned stewed rhubarb by Homespun Seasonal Living. I found it to be an easy recipe that was not overly sweet. I plan to use it on vanilla ice cream in the summer and maybe oatmeal in the winter. Kathie also recommends using it as a pie filling or mixing it with yogurt. Yum! Maybe even try it on its own as rhubarb sauce.
A recipe I plan to try with my next harvest is rhubarb syrup by Marisa at Food in Jars. I love making flavored syrups and never even thought about making rhubarb syrup before. I like to use my homemade syrups to flavor sparkling water or cocktails. You could also make an Italian soda, or even use it on pancakes. I’m looking forward to trying this one out!
My favorite way to preserve fresh rhubarb is by making wine! I usually take 1 gallon of rhubarb wine when it is fresh. Then, when I need a little reminder that it won’t be winter forever, I might make another gallon from frozen rhubarb in the middle of winter. Rhubarb makes a light, slightly tart wine that is very refreshing in the summer. While this is an easy recipe, if you have not made wine before, you will need some special equipment and familiarize yourself with the winemaking process. My favorite book on winemaking is First Steps in Winemaking by C.J.J. Berry. The recipe below is adapted from that book.
- 2-1/2 pounds rhubarb chopped
- 2-1/2 pounds granulated sugar
- 1 gallon water
- 1 gram wine yeast
- 1 gram yeast nutrient
- 1 cup strong black tea cooled
- In a fermenting bucket, cover the rhubarb with sugar and leave until most of the sugar has dissolved, probably about 24 hours.
- Strain liquid from rhubarb.
- Add the pulp to a bit of water and strain again to rinse the sugar from the rhubarb.
- Add tea and water to your strained syrup make 1 gallon.
- Add yeast and nutrient and stir well, then transfer to carboy.
- Add airlock and allow to ferment 7-10 days. If desired, you can back sweeten to taste.
I am a pretty lazy winemaker. I tend to forget to take specific gravity readings and neglect to take notes, so it is unlikely I can replicate a good batch. I’m working on getting better at both. I also tend not to bottle my wine either. Once it is done, we pour straight from the carboy. Some day I need to try aging some of my wines, but waiting is hard.
Need more rhubarb goodness? Check out these posts:
What is your favorite way to preserve rhubarb?