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To harvest rhubarb, stand over the plant, grasp a single stalk, and pull with increasing force in the direction the stalk is growing until the bottom of the stalk pops out of its socket in the plant.

Unless you have a home kitchen garden, you probably aren’t familiar with rhubarb. Heck, plenty of kitchen gardeners miss out on this spring treat. If you have space to grow it, but you’ve never tasted rhubarb, I suggest restraint: don’t plant rhubarb until you know you’re going to use it. I can tell you it’s delicious, but you should decide for yourself; most rhubarb enthusiasts grew up eating it, and I can’t think of a familiar flavor to which I can compare it.

There must be thousands of people who acquired rhubarb by buying a house with rhubarb plants in the yard. If you’re one of those people, you may wonder how to prepare the stuff… at least so you can try it once and decide whether to maintain your rhubarb patch. On the other hand, if you have a home kitchen garden without rhubarb plants, and the idea of harvesting your first significant crop in early-to-mid spring is compelling, you should sample some rhubarb and decide whether to add some to your landscape.

If you pull in the right direction, a stalk comes loose with a fan-shaped scoop at its end as you see on the left. If you twist or bend the stalk, it may snap off, leaving a stump in the ground and at the end of the stalk (right).

From Garden to Sauce

In case you’ve never seen it done, here’s how to harvest rhubarb and cook it into a delicious sauce to serve as a side dish, or as a topping for cottage cheese, yogurt, cereal, or whatever else you eat with a fruity topping:

1. Harvest rhubarb stalks. To pick a stalk, pull it directly away from the rest of the plant in the direction the stalk is growing. It should come free as though popping out of a socket. The bottom of the stalk should end in a pink, fan-shaped scoop. Try not to break the stalk off when you pull it.

I like to cut off the leaves and clean up the bottoms of the stalks before I take them into my kitchen; the leaves go onto my compost heap.

2. Cut off the leaf, and pull off any dry, leaf-like material near the base of the stalk.

3. Rinse off soil, insects, and any other foreign materials you’d rather not eat.

To prep a stalk for the sauce pot, I cut off blemishes and dry spots, wash the stalk, and cut it into segments about an inch long.

4. If there are ugly blemishes or dried out spots, incise them from the rhubarb stalks.

5. Cut the stalks into ¾- or 1-inch sections and put the sections in a sauce pot.

6. Add an eighth of an inch of water or less to the pot; just enough to cover the bottom.

After at least 45 minutes of slow cooking in a lidded pot (and with some sugar added), the rhubarb becomes a tangy, sweet, viscous sauce with a vaguely stringy texture.

7. Cover the pot and set it on very low heat; it will need to cook for 45 minutes to an hour at that setting.

8. While the sauce is hot, add sugar to taste and stir till it dissolves. Rhubarb is very sour; I add about one cup of sugar to every quart of sauce.

9. Refrigerate the rhubarb sauce and serve it cold.

Please visit my blog post Small Kitchen Garden Rhubarb for a discussion about planting and growing your own rhubarb.

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9 Responses to Eat Rhubarb from Your Home Kitchen Garden

  • Aleeda says:

    I usually do my rhubarb sauce in the microwave. I don’t add any water to it then and it won’t burn. I add the sugar when it is already a sauce and find that I can use less sugar than you suggested (about 1/4to 1/2 the amount) Maybe we have just gotten used to it a bit more zingy and sour. We like it warm when it is just cooked, or cold the next day.

  • admin says:

    I’ll have to try the microwave approach. Being old, I’ve never learned to take my microwave oven seriously… it has always been that curiosity I use to melt butter and warm up leftover food originally cooked with real heat. A microwave oven sounds like a great way to make a thick sauce with little risk of burning it.

    As for sugar? Yes, find your own level.

  • Jennifer says:

    I just went and cut some of my rhubarb. I wanted to prepare it and freeze for later use. Like last year, as soon as I got it wet to rinse off the stalks, there are jellied like spots on the rhubarb. What is it? Can it be cut off or is the rhubarb no good?

  • admin says:

    I’m not sure what you’re describing. Are there sticky spots that resemble a sticky spot left by a jelly-covered finger tip? Or, are the spots little pillows of jelly that are stuck to the stalk but that break off leaving the stalk more-or-less clean?

    If I found a few jelly-smear sticky spots on my rhubarb, and they washed off easily, I’d still use the rhubarb.

    If I found a few jelly “pillows,” I’d cut out a small section to which each pillow was stuck and use the rest.

    Despite my sensibilities, I can’t tell you what caused the situation. The first, I’d guess, was a deposit left by some insect. Also guessing, I’d say the second is sap that leaked from the stem where an insect drilled a hole into the stalk (and maybe the insect stayed in the hole, hence my reluctance to eat that section).

    I’ve not found a reference that mentions either problem, but would be happy to float the question to a broader audience and report back to you.

    Can you describe the jelly spots a bit more? Are they more like sticky spots on the stems, or like little bubbles or pillows stuck to the stems?

  • Pingback: Your Small Kitchen Garden Rhubarb: IT IS ON! | Your Small Kitchen Garden

  • Margo says:

    The rhubarb in my garden started to bloom. Can I cook and eat the stalk of the flower of the rhubarb?
    Thank you.

  • admin says:

    Margo: Thanks for visiting. From what I’ve read, you should not eat the flower stalks of a rhubarb plant. More than that, best practices for rhubarb care are to remove a flower stalk as early as you identify it as such–usually when it’s only an inch or two tall. The plant uses a lot of energy to flower and make seeds, and breaking off young flower stalks conserves that energy so the plant can store it in the roots. Your rhubarb will winter over better and grow more vigorously in the spring.

    So… don’t eat the seed stalks, and if you’re growing the rhubarb as food, don’t let the seed stalks grow at all. If you’re growing the rhubarb cuz it looks nice, then give the flowers a chance. They can be very impressive in full bloom!

  • Marti Purcell says:

    A cousin in my homestate of MN mailed some rhubarb to me (minus the leaves). The post office did not give the speediest service, and the ends of the stalks are brown and mushy. The remainder of the stalks are still hard. My question is can I cut off the bad part and still cook with the remainder; is it safe to eat after being in a hot truck for a few days? I can taste the rhubarb torte that I so want to make, but I also fear the consequences if it isn’t safe!

  • Daisy says:

    I’m surfing and browsing and dreaming – blame spring fever! One of my favorite new uses of rhubarb is a rhubarb barbeque sauce. It’s delicious, and it’s a nice sweet/tangy change from the other BBQ sauces we keep in the house. At the moment (late Feb.), my rhubarb is buried under at least three feet of snow.

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