Rhubarb – A Family Favorite
Rhubarb sauce is a healthy treat my son looks forward to every year. And we eat as much of it as we can before it disappears with the heat of an upcoming summer. His favorite is just like the picture – slightly chunky, slightly stewed with a tangy sweet taste. But, this rhubarb recipe is great for pie, cobbler, cake, crumble, etc.. Or, warmed with a scoop of ice cream. So delicious!
I grew up eating rhubarb because there was a giant plant next to my grandfather’s shed. I loved it raw (which is really tart) as well as cooked. When I graduated from high school my mother gave me my first Betty Crocker Cookbook. I was so excited to see that it had a rhubarb sauce recipe – in the fruit desserts section. But, there’s a number of problems with that recipe – from the excessive sugar to the red food coloring. Plus it became just a big old pile of mush and I have serious issues with mushy textures. So, rhubarb fell off my radar until I had my son and felt nostalgia for the more farm-centric days of my youth. Then it was time to start working on this delicious recipe.
What is Rhubarb?
This is a much more difficult question than one would think. Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? From a technical, botanical perspective a fruit contains seeds (ah the tomato conundrum) and vegetables consist of roots, stalks, and leaves. So, rhubarb is botanically a vegetable. But, in 1947 the U.S. Customs Court legally classified rhubarb as a fruit because it was “generally used in pie or sauce” and therefore importers shouldn’t have to pay the higher vegetable tax on stalks. Basically just the opposite of the tomato debate.
It is a perennial plant that grows in cool climates. The stalks are a beautiful red color with big green leaves. The stalks are safe to eat raw but they are seriously tart. Although I know it seems like big leafy greens should be edible – they are NOT. The leaves contain oxalic acid in a high enough level that the leaves shouldn’t be eaten. I’ve talked about oxalates before and yes, they are in many healthy foods which with proper cooking you can minimize the amount ingested (more information here) but not rhubarb leaves. Skip them.
Since most people don’t like the tangy-tart taste of raw rhubarb, recipes usually toss it with a lot of sugar and bake it into desserts like pie, cakes, or jams. Or rhubarb is combined with other sweeter fruits like strawberries.
But, I’ve seen it added to salsa, used to marinade meat, and even tried a delightful chutney. So, taste it for yourself and see where it best fits into your meal plans.
- 1 pound rhubarb, leaves removed
- ¼-1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 – 1 cup water
- Wash and cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Symmetry not necessary.
- In a 2-quart saucepan combine honey and water. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
- Add rhubarb pieces. Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered until tender and slightly less red in color, about 8-10 minutes.
- If desired, drain to remove additional liquid.
- Serve or refrigerate. Tasty warm or cold.
- Especially if you drain the sauce, don’t worry too much about the amount of water.
- The measurements aren’t precise because it really depends on how much tartness you like in comparison to how much sweetness and how you will be using the sauce. Most people seem to like a 1-2 ratio, honey-water but personally, my family likes it tangier and I like to add the least amount of sweetness as possible. I have used stevia and it works well too.
- Remember to remove all the leaves.
- Some of the pieces will degrade and others will stay chunky. If you like more of a creamy texture, cut the pieces smaller. You can even mash the sauce after draining to create a smoother sauce. If you like more of a chunky texture, cut the pieces bigger. Don’t change the cooking time if possible; the loss of too much red color makes the rhubarb look less appealing.