Rheum rhabarbarum, or rhubarb is a hearty perennial, and is one of the first food items to come out of our Minnesota garden. It is very leafy with long edible stems, and grows from a short stout rhizome. Rhubarb is propagated by splitting up the rhizome in early spring. Rhubarb is a vigorous grower, it seems to get bigger just over one night! Due to it’s early arrival in the garden, it is a favorite at our house. The kids like to grab a spear of rhubarb and munch on it while they adventure around our yard. Rhubarb is technically considered a vegetable, but most people use it as a fruit in desserts such as pie and rhubarb crisp or cobbler. One word of caution relating to the edibility of rhubarb, avoid at all costs the leaves. The leaves of rhubarb contain oxalic acid which is poisonous. You would have to eat a fairly large amount of the highly sour leaves to become sick or die, but don’t tempt fate, AVOID the leaves.
On to canning. The basic principles of preserving food through canning are fairly simple. You can use an acid based recipe such as pickles. This style of canning uses vinegar and salt as the preserving agent. Another way is using sugar. Examples of this are jellies and jams, preserves and syrups. One last way of preserving food through canning is with a pressure cooker. This last technique will be talked about in a future post, but all three of these techniques use and rely on hot water bathes. Start by cleaning up the rhubarb, remove the leaves and wash the stems with water. After that I like to slice the stems in half lengthwise and then cut up into half-inch sections. This is where the sugar comes into play. In a stock pot, add for every four cups of cut rhubarb, 1/2 cup of sugar and mix. Continue this until all the rhubarb has been mixed in with the sugar. I believe for 4 1/2 pounds of rhubarb, I used about 3 1/2 cups of sugar. Let this mix sit for about half an hour. Sugar naturally draws out moisture from whatever you add it to, and in this case it is rhubarb, and rhubarb has a high water content. At this point start to slowly bring this mixture up to a boil. I let it simmer and cook for at least an hour before I really let it boil. While the rhubarb is cooking collect
and prepare all your canning equipment: cleaned and sterilized jars, new lids, and a big stock pot of boiling water. Once the rhubarb is brought up to a boil, cook for an additional five minutes and then ladle the mix into you jars. Before putting on the lids and bands, make sure the lips of the jars are clean and free of any rhubarb debris. Just barely tighten the bands and place the full jars into the stock pot of boiling water. This is called a water bath and helps to ensure a sterile environment for whatever it is that you are canning. Let it sit in the water bath for fifteen minutes and then
remove. When you hear the lids pop, you know they are properly sealed. Sometimes it can take a while for the lids to pop, so you might not always hear it, but you can feel a properly sealed jar. The lid feels very solid and not give under finger pressure. Let the jars cool, label and put them away in your pantry for later use. One note on canning. I highly recommend finding and reading some other sources and books about canning. It is good to have some different perspectives on how to go about canning and preserving food. Using canned rhubarb in recipes is very simple. In most recipes fresh and canned rhubarb are interchangeable, but make sure to use most of the liquid. Baking times and temperatures may or may not change, and amounts of flour and sugar may also change slightly. Rhubarb pie, cake, crisp and cobbler are all great ideas. Other ideas are chutneys, rhubarb pickles or relishes. Be creative and CAN-ON! Cheers!