Yield: 8 – 12
I remember first eating rhubarb out of my Great-Grandma Lamb’s garden. Esther Lovina Heaton Lamb was the first person to introduce me to the marvels of rhubarb (and gardening in general). As a skinny six year old, I would raid the garden in late spring for gooseberries and tart rhubarb stalks. My face would pucker, but I loved a fresh stalk of rhubarb. Sometimes I even added salt to it. It was years before I could get my mind around cooking the stuff and adding sugar to it. My mother did not encourage eating sugar, and I didn’t know what I was missing, so we were both happy.
I use this sauce over ice-cream, with butter for rolls and bread, in grilled cheese and charcuterie sandwiches, as a base for BBQ sauce, and as the start to a family favorite: Strawberry – Rhubarb ice-cream. The quanities here are for a large batch recipe, but it can be cut down by 1/2 or 1/4 easily to make a smaller batches. It freezes well, or can be canned for longer shelf-life.
8 Cups Rhubarb, cut in 1/2 inch pieces 8 Cups Strawberries, washed and quartered 1 to 1 1/2 Cup Sugar, to taste 1 Lemon, juiced and seeds discarded 1/2 Cup Water
- Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot or dutch oven. Use only one cup of sugar initially. Additional sugar can be added later in the process if desired.
- Place on stove top and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer (medium to medium-low) and cook for 45 minutes, or longer, depending on how thick you want the sauce. Stir frequently to prevent sugars from sticking to bottom of pan and scorching. Near the end of cooking, taste and adjust sugar in 1/4 cup increments until desired sweetness is achieved.
- Serve warm or cold. Refrigerate to store for up to one week. Freeze for up to six months, or utilize a sterile canning process to preserve for up to one year.
I have two beautiful rhubarb plants just off the border of the back lawn. Rhubarb is one of the things I can grow in the open yard vs. the fenced off garden area because the deer, rabbits, squirrels and birds will leave it alone. My rhubarb plants were established from rhizome starts provided by a neighbor reducing his rapidly expanding crop. I felt fortunate and grateful to recieve a well-acclimated, edible variety. Today, it is well established and produces up to 5 pounds of rhubarb per plant per year. Eventually, I will need to divide it and share it with another rhubarb enthusiast.
Rhubarb is grown from divided rhizome roots, or seed, does best in Northern climates, and begins to emerge from dormancy in the late winter and early spring. The leaves are actually poisonous and should be avoided. Wild animals know this instinctively and will not bother Rhubarb mixed in with your ornamental beds. Do not try to feed it to domestic pets and livestock.
Rhubarb does not have to be relegated to a formal fruit and vegetable garden setting. There are ornamental, medicinal, and culinary varieties. I accidentally bought an ornamental cultivare as an early vegetable gardener, quickly recognizing my mistake when it bloomed beautifully, and rained seeds from very hollow stalks that were not at all edible. I’ve transferred this lovely specimen to a place where it provides cover for baby Quail each year, and now grow the edible varieties separately.
Rhubarb is a vegetable and not a fruit as some would suspect as it is often paired with sweeter fruits and berries. While the leaves are poisonous, the stalks are edible. Rhubarb has high fiber, and is a great source of calcium, vitamin K, vitamin C, iron and manganese. It does carry oxalates (as do almonds, spinach, kale and nut butters) which inhibit the uptake of calcium. Yes, it ironic that it has high levels of calcium and oxalates that bind that calcium and prevent absorption all at the same time. Cooking helps break down oxalates and combining with fruit further reduces the concentration even further allowing more of the available calcium to be absorbed.
Rhubarb is originally from Asia, where it was primarily used for medicinal purposes. It was highly valued for its healing property and was traded with other countries by Asian emperors as a commodity along with tea. It made its way to Europe, via the Silk Road, but was not really introduced into culinary arts until the 1700’s where it first emerged as a filling for pies and tarts.