There is very little easier than this – and the joy of sweet and tart rhubarb in the middle of winter just can’t be beaten. If you’re new to preserving, this is a great one to start with. The basics are covered in our preserving section – a candy thermometer is the one item that will help a great deal with this one.
If you’ve never eaten raw rhubarb before, give it a taste – it borders on awful (though I love it). It’s so bitter that it can be tough to chew (my eyes water a bit thinking about it). As a child I would pluck it from the garden and dip it repeatedly in white sugar (I’m told that honey is a good alternative as well). When it’s stewed with a bit of sugar (or in a pie), it gains a sweet and sour combination that can’t be beat. If you’ve never tried it before and want to try you can use this recipe to cook some up without preserving it.
Start by choosing fresh rhubarb – as is typical, you want the freshest you can possibly get. I cheated with the grocery store but I’m certain we’ll get some farm fresh in the next week and do another batch. Beyond fresh, you want to get them as red as possible. The green bits are tough and extra bitter and don’t make it into the preserve.
Clean up the rhubarb and remove leafy ends and green bits. Cut it into 1-inch pieces (don’t worry about being too accurate). I slice the real thick stocks lengthwise so that each piece is approximately the same size. The insides are bright green, which is why there is so much green in the photo.
For every 4 cups of rhubarb, add 1/2 to a full cup of sugar. I add as little as possible (you can always add more later as it stews). Place the chopped rhubarb in the fridge for a few hours, stirring occaisionally. Do this for less than 4 hours but as long as you want. The idea is to get the juices flowing and a nice sauce should be gathering at the bottom of your bowl.
Slowly bring the rhubarb to a boil. Raise the temperature to about 222 degrees (assuming you are at sea level). The sugar allows it to go beyond the typical 212 degrees. They will break down and fall apart – I like to make sure that there is a good mix of solid pieces and stewed “bits” – if you cooked it down even further you would end up with no solid pieces at all. I add a bit more sugar if it’s too tart here – the recommendation I’ve read is no more than 1 cup to every quart (4 cups).
Place it hot, sterilized jars and follow the sealing process (using a pressure cooker as there is little acidity in this mix). If the mix is “dry”, top off with boiling water – this shouldn’t be needed if you were patient with the sugar up front. We let ours soak in the fridge for about 3 hours and there’s plenty of natural juices contained within the jar.
Enjoy the sweet and sour explosion when you eat it! Stewed rhubarb is a delight in contrasts – have fun and enjoy!