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How to Harvest & Prepare Rhubarb for Cooking, Baking, & Freezing

Updated on August 26, 2016
ButterflyWings profile image

Butterfly has been gardening and preserving food of all kinds for many years, and thrives on the creativity involved in these processes.

The Rhubarb Plant

Courtesy of: http://www.cinnamonhearts.com/rhubarb.GIF
Courtesy of: http://www.cinnamonhearts.com/rhubarb.GIF

Rhubarb Needs Virtually No Cultivation

A typical rhubarb plant. Courtesy of: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/senior/vegetabl/images/large/rhubarb9.jpg
A typical rhubarb plant. Courtesy of: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/senior/vegetabl/images/large/rhubarb9.jpg
A field of rhubarb. Courtesy of: http://www.herbsphere.com/rhubarb111.jpg
A field of rhubarb. Courtesy of: http://www.herbsphere.com/rhubarb111.jpg

What Can You Make With Rhubarb?

Rhubarb is an easily established plant which can be used in pies, jams, crisps, breads, and other desserts. It can also be added to lemonades and punches.

Rhubarb's taste is tart and acidic, which some find to be overwhelming, and others find to be delightful. I am a firm believer that everyone should try a rhubarb pie at least once.

What Part of the Plant Should Be Used?

As children, my cousins and siblings and I spent many sunny afternoons wandering over my grandma's farmyard, chomping stalks of raw rhubarb, which grew in profusion both along the garden fence and down by the grain bins. We girls held the large leaves above us and pretended they were parasols. We minced along like fine ladies. But Grandma warned us strictly never to eat the leaves: "They're poisonous!"

As an adult, I found out that the whole plant is mildly toxic when eaten raw - including the stalks. But obviously the stalks are not poisonous enough to do great damage. The leaves, which seem to have greater toxicity, should always be discarded. Do not compost them - their toxins will not be destroyed by the composting process, and may do damage when used in the garden.

So only the stalks are used in cooking and baking. I'll show you how to prepare them, for either fresh use or preservation by canning, freezing, or drying.

How Do You Harvest Rhubarb?

Rhubarb is simple to harvest. It is most available in the spring and early summer, when the weather is cool and a bit damp. After the weather heats up, rhubarb loses its savor, and becomes a bit unpleasant and lifeless.

Select stalks at least a 1/2" across, and, grasping them near the soil, tug and twist them out of the root base. They should come out all in one piece.

Because the leaves are so bulky, you may wish to snap or cut them off before taking your stalks into the house to wash them. Discard the leaves where they will not be eaten by animals or children.

It can be tricky to judge exactly how much rhubarb you need for a recipe. The stalk diameter, length, and quality can vary considerably. On average, though, 1 pound of rhubarb stalks will yeild 3 cups of chopped rhubarb.

Step One - Wash the Rhubarb Stalks, Snap Off the Ends

Place all stalks in a large sink and rinse each carefully. Snap off the root end, and the leaf if you have not done so already. Place stalks on a towel to drain. Discard of or compost root ends.
Place all stalks in a large sink and rinse each carefully. Snap off the root end, and the leaf if you have not done so already. Place stalks on a towel to drain. Discard of or compost root ends.

Step Two - Chop the Stalks

Rhubarb contains much water, and may be chopped coursely, as it cooks down quite a bit. Aim for 1/2" pieces. Split any thick stalks lengthwise at least once, then lay three or four pieces together, and chop them all at once.
Rhubarb contains much water, and may be chopped coursely, as it cooks down quite a bit. Aim for 1/2" pieces. Split any thick stalks lengthwise at least once, then lay three or four pieces together, and chop them all at once.

Step Three - Package the Chopped Rhubarb

This looks like a lot of rhubarb, but I'm guessing it won't quite fill these two one-gallon sacks. Estimate the best you can, and pre-label, so any condesation doesn't effect the ink.
This looks like a lot of rhubarb, but I'm guessing it won't quite fill these two one-gallon sacks. Estimate the best you can, and pre-label, so any condesation doesn't effect the ink.
There. You can always add fresh rhubarb to a partially filled, frozen sack. Enjoy your mid-winter pies!
There. You can always add fresh rhubarb to a partially filled, frozen sack. Enjoy your mid-winter pies!

Preservation Methods Other Than Freezing

If you wish to freeze your chopped rhubarb, all you need to do is fill sacks, label them clearly, and find freezer room for them.

However, there are other options. You may can your rhubarb, or dry it. I'll show you how to preserve rhubarb in these ways in future articles.

Homemade Rhubarb Wine, with a Twist

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    • jayjay40 profile image

      jayjay40 7 years ago from Bristol England

      I love rhubarb but can't grow it. A lot of brilliant ideas about freezing it. A good hub well written, well done

    • ButterflyWings profile image
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      ButterflyWings 7 years ago

      Jayjay,

      What a bummer that you can't grow rhubarb! Can you get it somewhere else? Many people who can grow it have extra from year to year.

      Thank you for your compliments.

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      Dr. Min 4 years ago

      I just harvested a batch of rhubarb (mid-May) and only a small portion of the stalks were red -- most were green. But I cooked them anyway. Are green rhubarb stalks toxic? I'll sample a few spoonsful anyway and see what happens. I noticed that thinning the rhubarb helps promote thicker stalks. Is there a rhubarb beer or wine? Is it possible to ferment rhubarb?

    • ButterflyWings profile image
      Author

      ButterflyWings 4 years ago

      Some varieties of rhubarn are entirely green rather than red, and some varieties tend to show both colors. (What I have often does.) There is no known toxicity in the stalks.

      As for fermenting rhubarb, yes, it is possible. And, though I have never yet done it, you can make a wine from rhubarb. I hear it is quite good. I've never heard of a rhubarb beer, but I don't see why this would be impossible.

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      Teewee 3 years ago

      My rhubarb plant just yieled new stalks, just like in the spring ??? Is it safe to eat them since this is late Oct. They are the same nice quality as in the spring?

    • ButterflyWings profile image
      Author

      ButterflyWings 3 years ago

      Teewee, your rhubarb should be perfectly safe to eat at any time. Must have really nice weather, yes? The reason people usually don't eat the summer (and maybe fall) rhubarb is because weather conditions make it taste dull, or insipid. But if it tastes good, feel free to use it. Only the leaves and, I believe, the roots, are toxic. The stalks should be fine.

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