Rhubarb is one of the earliest-harvested plants, usually in mid- to late spring. It has a tart flavor and is usually thought of as a fruit, but it is really a vegetable. Rhubarb is a relative of buckwheat and mainly made up of water, so it has very few calories. This versatile vegetable can be made into pies, top a scoop of ice cream or be blended into drinks. It is ideal in salads and sauces.
Rhubarb is harvested when the stalks are firm and glossy. The color of rhubarb stalks vary from red to a speckled light pink and green. The color is not related to its suitability for cooking. When buying fresh rhubarb, look for moderately thin, crisp, dark-pink-to-red stalks that are free of blemishes. Greener, thicker stalks are stringier, coarser, and more sour. Avoid any that are wilted, pithy, stringy or rough-textured.
Rhubarb adds a zippy flavor to pies and tarts that only rhubarb can provide. Combined with strawberries, raspberries, apples and other fruits, the flavor gets better. Rhubarb also makes a delicious sauce for meat, poultry and fish. Adding diced rhubarb to muffins and biscuit recipes perks up the flavor without making the batter runny. Plan on 1 pound of rhubarb to equal 3 cups of raw, sliced rhubarb or 2 cups chopped cooked pieces.
Rhubarb is rarely eaten raw. To prepare, first remove all the leaves (which are poisonous), rinse and pat dry. Trim the ends and cut into 1-inch chunks. If it is stringy, just remove the tough strings as you would with celery, though the strings will usually break down during the cooking process. Stew or bake with a little water and sugar to taste; if you sweeten rhubarb after it is cooked, you will need less sweetener. Rhubarb can quickly cook down into a syrupy liquid, so keep an eye on it if you need it to retain some texture for specific recipes.
Fresh rhubarb will keep for up to a week if you store it tightly wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. Don’t wash it until you’re ready to use it. For longer storage, consider freezing, canning or drying it.
To freeze rhubarb, cut stalks into 1-inch pieces and lay them flat on a parchment-lined baking pan. Freeze a few hours, until firm. Transfer to freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to a year. Use frozen rhubarb the same way as fresh — in sauces, pies, and crumbles.
Dehydrated rhubarb pieces can be used for rhubarb cake and muffins, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb crumble, and many other dessert recipes.
For canning rhubarb or any food always use a tested recipe such as those found at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/rhubarb_stewed.html
Judi Seifert is a WSU Clark County Extension Master Food Preserver. For more information, contact the Master Food Preserver (MFP) Hotline at 360-697-6060 ext. 5366 or website at clark.wsu.edu.