Stewed Rhubarb: The First Cannable of 2013

Fresh Rhubarb

Wow! Is it canning season already? I guess so, because I spend Saturday afternoon with a friend, processing a case of rhubarb and canning it for the season’s first preserves.

Rhubarb is a delicious, sour vegetable that is treated as a fruit by most cooks, as well as by the courts — check out the linked Wikipedia article for the 1947 decision that declared rhubarb a fruit for tax purposes. Strawberry is its classic partner, of course, because it needs some sweetening up to be optimally edible and delicious.

We started with twenty pounds of rhubarb, which we washed and chopped. About a fourth of it went into the dehydrator, because we were curious to see what would happen to it, and the rest went into a big stock pot.

Drying Rhubarb

My friend had seen a recipe that called for letting the rhubarb sit with sugar for a while to draw out its juices, so we started there, but we wanted to use natural sweeteners. We mixed in about two cups of honey and put in three pints of unseasoned applesauce that I had left over from my last round of apples last fall. I liked connecting the end of last season to the beginning of this one!

Sweetening with last year's applesauce

 After letting in sit for a little less than an hour, we turned on the pot and stewed it until it was broken down and bubbling. It was sweet to the point of being tasty and edible, but not yet a sauce, and that’s how we wanted it. Like last year’s unseasoned applesauce, this stewed rhubarb can be “finished” later in a variety of ways, and I like the flexibility of that.

First Preserves of 2013!

We hot water bath canned 12 pints of stewed rhubarb (from about 15 pounds raw), and had about a pint and a half left. We added some more honey to sweeten it up, and just a touch of rosewater to make a very tasty rhubarb sauce. We spooned it liberally over sponge cake and ice cream for a very pleasant end to the afternoon.

Rhubarb Sauce, Ice Cream, Sponge Cake

Oh, were you wondering about the dried rhubarb? To be honest, I kind of am, too. The pieces are tiny and sourer than cranberries. My friend had two good ideas for them, based on their similarity to cranberries: they can be rehydrated in orange juice or something else sweet and used in baking, or that they could be paired with dark chocolate and nuts in a rhubarb bark. Other than that, I’m kind of at a loss.

The stewed rhubarb will require less imagination. Of course, it could go in pies. The rosewater was neat, and it seems that vanilla is also a classic addition to rhubarb things. I’d like to do some as a sauce for cheesecake, and also had the idea of cooking one of the pints down to make a dense, tangy spread — rhubarb butter, I guess — that could go with goat cheese or something like that. As I write this, I’m also wondering if I could make a goat cheese-cake with rhubarb sauce….we’ll see what happens next.

Happy Canning season!

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