Rhubarb (About)

Rhubarb plant

Rhubarb plant

By Cat, Jun 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

  • See also: 1. Foods (About) Menu;
  • Includes: 1. How to prepare rhubarb; 2. Stewed Rhubarb (Sauce); 3. Canning Stewed Rhubarb

Spring’s great treat:  fresh rhubarb. Used like a fruit, but it is really a vegetable. One problem with rhubarb is that its leaves are quite high in toxic oxalic acid; the stems less so. It’s best to wait until the stems are nicely pink before using in food, to avoid a nasty tummy ache.  A bit of salt or baking soda helps to sweeten the rhubarb, in addition to sugar.

When I first learned how to make pie crust from scratch, I made a rhubarb custard pie, then invited all my friends over for a taste.  They were hooked.  After that, all I had to do was say “rhubarb,” and they dropped everything to have a piece of my pie.

To pick rhubarb, grab a stem by the stem near bottom of the leaf and pull hard until the stem breaks away from the root. Then cut off the leaf to compost it; save the stem to use for stewed rhubarb, rhubarb pie, and other delicious recipes.

How to Prepare Rhubarb

This information is from Putman Place, Rhubarb Tips and Recipes (1):

  • Wash and trim stems.  Remove all of the leaves, as they are toxic.  The pink and white parts at the base of the stem are good, and make a pink color when cooked.
  • For most recipes, rhubarb is chopped in ¼”  to  ½” pieces.  One pound of stems yields about 3.5 – 4 cups of chopped rhubarb.
  • Although raw rhubarb stems can be be frozen then chopped when ready to use, it takes up a lot of room.  Far better to make a sauce (see below) and freeze that.
  • Rhubarb is very tart, making sweetener a necessity.  Later in the season, the stems are not as juicy, so you must adjust the amount of liquid or thickening in your recipe.

 Stewed Rhubarb (Rhubarb Sauce)

When I was a kid, rhubarb grew wild all around my neighborhood, probably because of all the underground springs that kept the ground damp. During rhubarb season, in the early mornings, my Dad would go out and pull enough stems for a batch of stewed rhubarb. We had a bit with breakfast, but Mom canned the majority in her pressure canner, then stored the jars in our root cellar.

This recipe is adapted from Putman Place, Rhubarb Tips and Recipes (1) and Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig (2).  I’ve added a bit of baking soda to neutralize some of the acid in the sauce so that less sugar is required.  Raw honey has great nutrient value as long as it is raw and uncooked (that’s why it’s added after cooking).  If you can’t find raw honey, try one of the other sweetening options.  Yields about 4 cups sauce.

Notes on Ingredients:

Sweetener:  The original recipe uses cane sugar, but I have issues with sugar and prefer to use the stevia/honey option in my adaptation of the recipe. You can try any of the following:

Tartness:  The lemon juice is added to the stevia water, to help the stevia dissolve, but you don’t need much, just a drop or two. Later, when you add baking soda to neutralize some of the very tart oxalic acid from the rhubarb, it will also neutralize the added lemon juice.  This neutralization brings out the sweetness in the rhubarb, so you don’t need to add so much honey or other sweetener.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 1 lb rhubarb, chopped in 1/2″ pieces (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 4 – 6 Tbsp filtered water
  • ¼ tsp stevia extract powder (or see sweetener options, above)
  • 1 – 2 drops lemon juice (see Tartness, above)
  • 1 Tbsp freshly ground ginger (optional)
  • ⅛ tsp baking soda  (see Tartness, above)
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp raw honey (or see sweetener options, above)
  • 1 Tbsp butter (optional)
  • Equipment:
  • medium saucepan
  • wooden spoon


  1. Trim, wash and chop rhubarb and place in saucepan.
  2. Mix water and stevia in measuring cup, with a couple drops lemon juice (don’t overdo–see NOTE), and stir to dissolve, then pour over rhubarb.  Add ginger (optional).  If using maple syrup and/or sugar, add it now.  Don’t add raw honey until after cooking.  Stir.
  3. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  4. Reduce heat; add baking soda, stirring until the foaming calms down. Simmer for about 1 hour, or until soft; adding more water and/or baking soda as necessary.
  5. Stir in honey, to taste.
  6. Serve warm or chilled, with whipped cream.

Testing 6/13/08: Used 1 lb rhubarb, 4 Tbsp water, pinch baking soda, ⅛ tsp stevia and ½ tsp powdered ginger (because I had no fresh ginger).  After cooking 20 minutes, taste test indicated it was too sour.  Added another ⅛ tsp stevia (¼ tsp total), and added ⅛ tsp baking soda (it frothed for awhile, indicating neutralization of sour acids), then continued to cook for the full hour.  Added 2 Tbsp honey, but not quite sweet enough, so added another Tbsp honey (3 Tbsp total).  Result:  Perfectly sweet-tart.

Canning Rhubarb Sauce

This instruction uses a stove-top, boiling water type canner. You could use a pressure canner as my Mom did; see instruction that came with your canner.

  1. Heat water in stove-top canner to boiling and keep at a simmer.
  2. Sterilize jars and lids (not the rings).
  3. Fill sterilized jars with your sauce while sauce and jars are still hot.  Leave ½” empty head space at the top of the jar.  A canning funnel is a helpful tool to minimize mess.
  4. Attach sterilized lids and rings, and place on rack in canner, so that jars are raised ½” above the bottom. Add more boiling water as necessary to cover jars by 1 inch.
  5. Raise heat and return water to boil; keep bath at a slow boil and process for 20 minutes (for altitudes <6000 feet) or 25 minutes (for altitudes >6000 feet.
  6. Remove jars from water bath (use tongs) and place on a cloth or rack, on the counter, out of any draft.  Set sterilized lid on top of each jar and screw on rings. The jars will seal as the temperature inside the jars cools, causing a depression in the lid.  You will know they are sealed if the depression is visible, and you cannot push the center of the lid any farther.
  7. Any jars that have NOT sealed by the time they are cooled must either be reprocessed, frozen, or refrigerated for immediate use.
  8. Label jars to indicate contents and date canned.


  1. Putman Place, Rhubarb Tips and Recipes: putmanplace.com/rhubarb_tips_and_recipes.htm
  2. Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig (for more on this book, see Beloved Cookbooks

About Cat

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