Preserving Rhubarb

From the archives, just in time for rhubarb season and the May Can Jam!  Enjoy!

. . .

Today I started tackling the metric ton of rhubarb that I brought home from Maine. I started with about 4 lbs, washed everything well, trimmed off the fat stem end and a small slice off of the top (leaf) end, and started chopping. I picked out the prettiest, pinkest stalks to make Rhubarb Rosemary Jelly (courtesy of Gourmet via Garrett McCord of VanillaGarlic); I decided to macerate the rhubarb overnight with sugar so that jelly will be a project for tomorrow. It took about 2 lbs, diced into 1/4-inch slices, to fill my dehydrator; Neighbor Nancy tells us it ought to take 8-12 hours to completely dry, at which point I’ll have dried rhubarb for scones, muffins and granola. Yet another pound was sliced into 1/2-inch lenghts and frozen for eventual use in Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam. And I still have plenty left!

If you, too, are blessed with an excess of rhubarb  here are some basic preservation techniques for lovely, pink, tart, delicious, Springy rhubarb!

For more rhubarb ideas, including non-preserving recipes, check here.

cran-rhubarb-pops1Refrigerating Rhubarb

I’ve refrigerated farmer’s market rhubarb for up to a month, with only a little bit of softening in the stalks. It does help to keep the rhubarb in an airtight container; I usually cut the stalks in half and place in a Ziplock bag, with a paper towel (to absorb any excess water and maintain crispness), and store in the crisper in my refrigerator. You could also use one of those long & skinny Tupperware containers that are designed for celery (which I guess are now considered antiques – my Mom always had one in the fridge!).

Freezing Rhubarb

Rhubarb will lose its shape as it thaws, so choose to freeze rhubarb for jam, chutney or jelly recipes that will not require a crunchy rhubarb texture. Wash each stalk well and trim off the ends. Make sure you discard or compost the leaves (if present) as they are poisonous (or make stepping stones, insecticide, or paper!). Slice the rhubarb according to a recipe you have in mind, pat dry on a kitchen towel, and pack into a Ziplock bag, or other freezer container, from which you can expel all air. Freeze in a recipe-sized portion, so that if it freezes together, you can add one big clump to your pot, or spread onto a cookie sheet and freeze loose, then pack into your bag or container.

Use: in jams & chutneys, pies & crumbles, or savory sauces. Leftover pulp from jelly-making makes great popsicles or fruit butter granola.

Drying Rhubarb

Wash and trim rhubarb stalks. Slice large stalks in half lenghtwise, in order to keep each piece of rhubarb approximately the same size. Slice into ½- to 1-inch pieces, then scatter across the trays in a dehydrator, being careful not to let the individual pieces touch, which slows down the drying process. Rhubarb should dry at a temperature of about 135-145 degrees F for about 8-12 hours. Two pounds trimmed & sliced filled five dehydrator trays and yielded 1 cup tiny, tart & puckery dried rhubarb pieces. Pack dried rhubarb into airtight storage containers and store in a cool, dark place.

Alternatively, if you do not have a dehydrator, you can spread rhubarb on cookie sheets, or if slicing larger pieces, on wire cooling racks, and dry in the oven. Set your oven as low as it will go (range is typically 150 – 200 degrees F) and check on the rhubarb occassionally; it may take anywhere from 4 – 10 hours to dry completely. You can get creative and try other methods: spread rhubarb on screens and sun-dry (cover with cheesecloth to protect from bugs and airborne twigs, leaves, etc.), or place screens in  a warm, dry place like the attic, or a shelf above your woodstove. If experimenting, I suggesting trying it first with a few stalks of rhubarb, then proceed if it works to your satisfaction.

Also see Rhubarb Rosemary Two-fer for a discussion on making rhubarb leather in the dehydrator.

Use: in granola, oatmeal, quickbreads, or anywhere else you may use dried fruit.

rhubarb-prosecco3-460Canning Rhubarb

If canning rhubarb straight, most people will want to add sugar, as its natural tartness is too much for many to eat straight out of the jar (or off the plant) without sweetener. Rhubarb needs no additional acid, as it is solidly acidic with a pH of 3.2-3.4, and can be safely canned in a boiling water bath without the addition of either acid (lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid) or sugar. Added sugar will help to preserve color and texture, and extend shelf-life, of canned rhubarb.

Unsweetened canned rhubarb, from Putting Food By: Fill jars with hot fruit and its juice, leaving ½-inch of headroom. Process in a Boiling Water Bath for 15 minutes for either pints or quarts. Slice rhubarb into manageable pieces, about 1-inch or smaller, and juice enough rhubarb to fill your allotted jars. Bring sliced rhubarb and juice to a boil, then lower to a simmer and fill hot, sterilized jars, leaving ½-inch headroom, and process in a BWB for 15 minutes. If you do not have a juicer, you can use any unsweetened juice, boiling, to fill around the rhubarb: apple, raspberry, and cranberry are all good choices and are available unsweetened in health food stores.

From the Ball Book of Home Preserving, Rhubarb in Syrup:

  • 16 cups sliced (1-inch) rhubarb (about 4 lbs)
  • 2 – 4 cups sugar

Toss rhubarb with sugar (amount dependent on how sweet you would like the final product and how thick you want the syrup) in a large, non-reactive saucepan, cover, and let rest at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 30 seconds. Ladle hot rhubarb and liquid into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Process in a BWB for 15 minutes. Yields 8 pints.

fij-orangerhubarb1-460-2For other rhubarb preserves, see:

Need even more ideas? Here are a couple from around the web. Got a favorite? Shout it out in comments below – links welcome!


  1. Neighbor Nancy

    ooo, pretty! Let me know if my timing info was correct, ’cause I never tried that one. Worst of all now I can’t even find where I read it.

  2. localkitchen

    They’re still cooking away (it’s been about 5 or 6 hrs now).. but I should have left the pieces bigger – they are dehydrating down to nothing. I think I’ll update it to 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch pieces.

  3. kimmyt

    Did I ever say that your my hero? Also, I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten rhubarb in something other than strawberry rhubarb pie.

    p.s. want to climb some day in late june? I have an anniversary day due me! (5 years w00t!)

  4. Christine Anderson

    Thanks. I just got some rhubarb from the CSA, and I was planning to make jam, but now I’m wondering what it tastes like dried.

  5. localkitchen

    Christine – The dried rhubarb is pretty good – VERY tart, but sort of like a crunchy Sour Patch kid. Will be good in a sweet muffin or granola, I think. However, the 2lbs I put in the dehydrator yielded me exactly 1 cup of dried rhubarb pieces because (duh) like celery, rhubarb is mostly water, which I had somehow overlooked. I think when I try making the rhubarb jelly, I will save the pulp and try to make a fruit leather; makes more sense to use the juice rather than just let it evaporate. The house does smell nice & rhubarby now, though!

    Nan – 8 hr on the money to dry, but yield was quite low.

    Kimmy – rhubarb rocks, and if you know anyone who grows it, they almost always have too much. It is good with strawberries, of course, but also any other berry, citrus, figs and savory things like onion & ginger. And yes – climbing in June would rock as well (har har); I’ve been working like a crazy woman so not getting out to play nearly enough. 5 years?? Crazy, huh? Bgen gave me a stupid Tiffany bracelet. Would have rather had a day off!

  6. Neighbor Nancy

    Hm… How large was the initial stem? In the picture above, they look so tiny. I was picturing thin pieces of big fat stem.

    Now,I’ll just have to lug out the dehydrator and give it a try. Serves me right for writing before doing.

    BTW, I’m going to link this for Saturday’s “Neighborly Advice.” You did such a nice job with the topic.

    I going climbing…but it’s into bed. Not quite as adventurous.

    So, is Melissa dragging you to Rhinebeck in the fall? (Sheep and wool fest) I highly recommend it.

  7. localkitchen

    Some of the stems were pretty skinny (not much bigger than a finger) and some were quite fat, so I cut the fat ones in half in order to keep the pieces even. Although they dried out really tiny, they do pack a major sour flavor punch, so maybe the size is not so bad. For the next dried batch, I will try larger pieces and see how it goes.

    Yes, feel free to post it to Neighborly Advice!

    Melissa told me about the Rhinebeck fest; I’ll actually be on my honeymoon in Banff, Alberta, but Melissa is planning to stay at my place for the festival. 🙂

  8. spamwise

    Pair it with apples (if your farmers’ market have any that are still in storage from last winter) and make a compote. Lovely with a dollop of creme fraiche.

    It makes a great chutney as well.

  9. JoAnn

    Great idea dehydrating. Intense flavor – pucker power. I could see rhubarb in a chutney or ice cream. Can’t wait for the follow-up recipes.
    I’ve just finished a blog on canning tomato vegetable soup and linked it to your post on BWB canning. Hope that’s okay with you.

  10. localkitchen

    More recipes to follow, today if I can get the post up. Feel free to link to any post! I’ll have to check out your tomato-vegetable soup recipe; I hadn’t even thought of canning soup.

  11. Thank YOu. My husband loves rhubarb, so we planted one last year. This year I will have lots!

    Never having done anything with it before I’ll be watching your posts.

  12. Great post! I have a patch going strong in my yard and am looking for ways to preserve it beyond the freezer and a fast jams. Thanks for the inspiration!

  13. This is a very nice post…I am going to try several of these ideas. I make a really good cherry rhubarb jam, and I made an interesting rhubarb slush last year for my son’s bday party (think rhubarb punch), but I was thinking of trying some baked goods with rhubarb. I am going to get out my dehydrator tonight and start it working away. Most of my stalks are huge, so I’m going to try bigger pieces, based on what you guys said. I also got those inserts for making fruit leather, but I haven’t tried them yet, so I hope my son likes it. Look forward to checking out the rest of your posts!

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  16. Betty

    What a wonderful post! I was sad, however to see that you cut off the bottom ends of your rhubarb stocks. For me, the fat ends are the best part, especially in a pie. I just tear off the leafy bit, and clean well, and chop it up with the rest of the stalk….just my 2 cents worth.

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  19. I just want to say that I am very jealous of you right now. Our rhubarb is still under 3 feet of snow, and it keeps on coming! You say you got yours from Maine? We have property there. Maybe it is time for a move!
    Thanks for including my Pinterest board in your round up. Looks like I have some more ideas to pin now!

    • I’ve come home from Maine in the past with tons of rhubarb: Tai’s grandmother has about 6 ENORMOUS plants in her yard, and they are usually in full force by mid-May. Our rhubarb in NY has just started showing up in the markets: last week I scored the first of the season. But yes, I feel your pain: it’s so hard to wait (and wait!) when everyone starts talking about strawberries in March and we get them in late June. I can only imagine it’s even later in Alaska!

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  21. Arline

    Nicole, Yes move to Maine! We have a lot of rhubarb and our house is for sale in South Addison, Maine. We are moving to Florida.

  22. Pingback: May Preserving Ideas - WellPreserved

    • Preserving has come a long way since 1961. While botulism is not an issue for a high-acid fruit like rhubarb, mold and other nasties are. It’s always a good idea to protect your hard work with a quick water bath.

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