I must admit I get a little giddy when rhubarb starts to hit the farmers markets each spring. In Ontario it is among the first of the fresh local produce, so when I catch a glimpse of its lovely pinky-green stems, my pulse quickens and I start dusting off my canning equipment, time to eat fresh local goods and get some of those beauties into jars!
I was pleasantly surprised when I gave little Q his first taste of rhubarb and saw that it was love at first bite for him too! It's great to know that babies and toddlers can really go for tart and tasty, as rhubarb is loaded with antioxidants plus other good stuff like Vitamins A, C and K, dietary fiber, folic acid. Once cooked or preserved rhubarb is delicious on its own or served with thick yogourt (natural or sweetened) pound cake, icecream , fruit crumbles etc... If your little one doesn't t take to it right away try adding some to apple sauce and let them get used to the taste in a gentle and subtle way.
Being a highly acidic food, rhubarb is fun to preserve as the sugar can be cut back while still maintaining healthy and safe preserves. This is my preferred method as the approach is gentle and manages to keep the rhubarb looking lovely and in whole pieces. This is a general recipe with rough proportions, easily adjusted to the amount of rhubarb you have on hand and the amount of sugar that your family prefers.
You will need:
a good amount of fresh local rhubarb
Sugar, about 1-2 cups for every 4 cups of cut rhubarb (can also use maple syrup or natural cane sugar)
Preserving jars with NEW snap lids and rings
2 big pots, preserving funnel and a large metal spoon (a ladle or measuring cup will also work, I prefer a Chinese style of ladle as it is nice and big with a shape that provides easy access while keeping you at arms length from your boiling hot pot of preserves)
- Lay a few similar sized stalks of rhubarb on your board (this keeps the pieces a nice even size) and cut into 3-4 cm lengths. Once the whole lot is cut up, throw the pieces in a big bowl of water and wash in several changes of cold water, drain well
- Now add the sugar and toss all together until the pieces are coated
- Within a few minutes the sugar will start to dissolve, this is what you want to happen. Wrap up the bowl and let sit in the fridge overnight, if time gets away from you and it ends up being two days until you get a chance to finish it, don’t worry, it will work out (that’s the beauty of this technique, the workload can be split up over a day or two, easily fit in between naptimes)
- The next day, take the bowl out of the fridge for an hour or two and let it warm up a bit. All of the sugar will have dissolved and you will see lots of lovely pink juices in the bowl, that’s a good thing.
- Now, put a big colander over a nice big pot and let the juices drain into it.
- While the juices drain out of the rhubarb, submerge your equipment in a pot and let them boil for about 5 minutes. Take them out, lay them on a clean surface and let cool. Next, place your preferred size of preserving jars in hot water and let them come to a rolling boil for at least 5minutes
- Place the rhubarb juice (not the pieces yet!) over medium high heat and bring to a boil, stir in the pieces, cover and bring to a simmer, giving a few gentle stirs as it heats (note this process goes quickly!)
- Immediately take a few jars out of the water and let sit upside down briefly to let the water drain out.
- Put your funnel on top and fill the jars to about 3 cm beneath the top of the jar. Push any floaters down into the syrup with a sterilized metal spoon. Make sure to leave a space at the top of the jar to avoid overflowing/poor sealing jars (we call this head space)
- Use a paper towel or lint free cloth to wipe any drips off the edge
- Throw on a lid and a ring and lift the jars carefully back into your pot of boiling water
- Repeat until all jars are full, boil for another 10-20 minutes (depending on the size of the jars, 10 mins for 125 ml and 20 min for 1 ltr jars)
- Remove to a wire rack or baking sheet and let sit for 24 hours. DO NOT TOUCH THE LIDS! They must be allowed to seal on their own, all of that heat creates a vacuum which pushes out the air and pulls the snap lid down telling that it is all good and your jars are properly sealed. If any of the jars have not sealed they can be stored in the fridge for up to three weeks. For the sealed jars, store them in a cool dark place for up to one year.
***My technique for preserving may not follow the manufacturers guidelines and is a version of how I was taught by my Mom, Grandma and Aunts so it works well for me.