How to cook rhubarb, fresh from the garden (or from the shop, if need be)


I harvested my biggest load yet of Rhubarb yesterday, and there’s still more in the garden. We have had such a wet Spring that it is growing prolifically. So now the question is how to cook rhubarb? Of course I’ve stewed it before (instructions below), but I’m going to try something different this time.

Did you know that rhubarb is actually botanically classified as a vegetable, not a fruit? This is only our second year growing it. I planted a few crowns that my mother dug up for me in the autumn before last, and harvested enough last year to make several small batches, which I stewed and ate over a week or so on my breakfast cereal. No-one else in the family was particularly keen on it (weirdos), but I think we had it once or twice for dessert with ice cream, all the same.

This time though, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to cook rhubarb pie. I spent quite some time yesterday Googling “how to cook rhubarb” and came up with a gazillion and one rhubarb pie recipes, some with strawberries, some with apple (I often stew it with apple) and some plain.

The one I liked the sound of best was plain, with the flour and sugar mixture placed half in the pie crust under the raw chopped rhubarb, and the other half over the top of it. Apparently this makes sure the juices from the rhubarb don’t soggify (do you think that’s a word?) the pastry, and creates a nice crisp crust. Of course, I’ve lost the link now, but I’ll find it again and if it works out I’ll post photos and add a link to the recipe.
Freshly harvested rhubarb stems

In the meantime, here’s how to cook rhubarb the way my mother and Nanna both did it:

  1. Clean the Rhubarb stems and trim the ends (NB the leaves are filled with oxalic acid so DO NOT eat them!).
  2. Chop it up, into about 1/2-1 inch pieces.* Use your judgement with this, some stems are much thinner than others, so they’re not all going to be the same anyway – no need to be slavish about getting it exact.
  3. Pop it in a saucepan with just enough water to cover – rhubarb has a high water content, so you don’t need a lot of extra water, but don’t leave it to boil dry as I did twice (twice!) last year. A heavy based saucepan is best.
  4. Add sugar – now, this is variable to taste basically, but start with about 1/2 cup per 1/2 kilo (or per pound) and see what you think. Some people like up to a cup per pound. You can also add some apple in which case you don’t need as much sugar.
  5. Simmer until the mixture is mushy – look for the rhubarb strings to be mixed through out, rather than solid pieces. Though again, this is a matter of taste – but that’s how my mother always made it, so that’s how I make it too.

That’s it. That’s how you stew rhubarb.  Now you can eat it, either hot with ice cream, or cold on your breakfast cereal tomorrow (or stirred through your porridge, mmm).

Tomorrow, how to cook rhubarb pie.
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*Why am I talking in inches? I could say 1-3 cm, which is not the same as 1/2-1 inches, but there you go. I told you it didn’t need to be exact :-)


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