Rhubarb Season Is Fleeting—Here’s How to Store, Preserve, and Freeze It so You Can Enjoy Rhubarb Year-Round
This tart vegetable keeps well if you follow the right preservation methods.
Rhubarb is usually in peak season from April through June—but if you want to enjoy these deliciously tart stalks the rest of the year, it's smart to learn how to store, preserve, and freeze rhubarb in a variety of ways, depending on ripeness and application.
There are so many ways to use rhubarb (which is technically a vegetable but masquerades as a fruit in many sweet desserts, from crumbles to pies). Don't write it off as an accent in other types of dishes, though. "Rhubarb has a nice vegetal flavor with an upfront acid that lends itself to savory flavors even better than sweet," says David Santos, chef with Um Segredo Supper Club in New York City. When you're thinking about using or preserving rhubarb, knowing its ripeness comes into play. There's a common misconception that rhubarb's ripeness is determined by color—but in actuality, the color depends on its variety, says Laura Lindsey, pastry chef at Tullibee and Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis. If you are seeking that deep red hue, look for varieties like Martha Washington or Crimson Cherry.
Not sure how to use fresh rhubarb? Try these four easy rhubarb desserts for spring.
How to Store Rhubarb
Fresh rhubarb should always be refrigerated (if you've harvested it yourself, remove the leaves first, as they are toxic). To prolong freshness, snip the bottom of the stalks first and stand them upright in a glass or jar of water, says Lindsey. You can also wrap the rhubarb stalks in a damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. With either of these storage methods, your rhubarb should last three to four weeks in your fridge.
How to Preserve Rhubarb
If you find yourself with young, less-ripe rhubarb stalks, they're great for pickling, since you want a firmer texture and a bit of crispness. "There is nothing better than opening up a jar of bright pickled rhubarb on a cold January day to bring back that glimpse of summer," says Lindsey.
Her method for quick-pickling rhubarb: Blanch stalks in boiling water for 30 seconds, then set them in an ice bath. (This helps to preserve rhubarb's red color.) Then, bring your pickling liquid to a simmer on the stove to dissolve the salt, sugar, and spices. (Lindsey also likes using Champagne or a bright, fruity vinegar with cardamom, ginger, and anise—genius.) Pour the liquid over your prepared rhubarb into a container, such as a glass jar. Let it cool to room temperature on your counter before sealing it and refrigerating (unless you're canning). This type of quick-pickled rhubarb will last three to four months and works well on a cheeseboard.
Overly ripe rhubarb is best used to make jam. If you decide to can rhubarb jam, first sterilize your jars by submerging them in boiling water for 10 minutes, then choose between the boiling water method or pressure-canning method. You'll want to cut your rhubarb into pieces and cook with your desired amount of sugar, and bring to a boil before packing it (while still hot) into jars.
How to Freeze Rhubarb
Freezing is a great way to preserve raw rhubarb, but you have to do so carefully, as it's a water-dense stalk similar to celery. If not frozen properly, ice crystals will form on the rhubarb leading to freezer burn, says Blake Hartley, executive chef at Lapeer Seafood Market in Alpharetta, Ga. He recommends using a vacuum sealer for the best results.
First, wash the rhubarb and pat stalks dry with a towel. Carefully remove the skin (you can discard this) using a vegetable peeler. Next, lay out the stalks (or you can slice into smaller pieces) on a baking sheet so they're not touching each other; place sheet in the freezer. Once they're IQF (individually quick frozen), transfer the rhubarb to a freezer-safe vacuum bag and vacuum seal the product at full compression on your machine. This will ensure no oxygen is left in the bag, which will prevent freezer burn, says Hartley. Finally, label and date the bag and return it to your freezer. It will keep well for two to three months.
Another method of freezing rhubarb is to blanch it first, which helps to preserve its flavor even longer, before vacuum sealing, says Lindsey.
You can also make freezer jam or preserves by combining cooking chopped rhubarb with strawberries, raspberries, sugar and a bit of citrus, says Diana Manalang, chef at Little Chef Little Cafe in New York City. Add the cooled mixture to jars and store them in the freezer, where they can last up to a year. "Freezing is easier than canning, and the jam thaws out pretty quickly," Manalang adds.
Can't find fresh rhubarb, or end up with freezer-burned rhubarb? A Pacific Northwest company called Oregon Specialty Fruit sells canned rhubarb that's lightly sweetened. To use it in recipes, sub two cans of rhubarb (one drained, one whole) plus 3 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons cornstarch for every two cups of fresh rhubarb.