The trick is to have things to do with surplus rhubarb, (other than endless rhubarb crumble), and this is what I do. Basically the raw rhubarb is candied and dried, no cooking required. Delicious sweet and sour sweets made from raw rhubarb! I wish I could claim the name but my friend came up with ‘Rhu-Chews’.
Rhubarb sweets or Rhu-Chews
1 – Wash and Chop – Wash the rhubarb and cut into pieces, but not small pieces (everything will shrink).
2 – Rhubarb and Sugar – Weigh the rhubarb and then place the rhubarb in a pan with an equal amount of sugar and leave for 24 hours, with an occasional agitation of the contents to ensure sugar coverage. The pieces will shrink during this process (by about 20-25%) and rhubarb juices will naturally be squeezed out. You will end up with soft rhubarb floating in a rhubarb syrup.
Rhubarb and sugar in a pan at the start of the soaking process
3 – Eat Raw – You can eat the pieces now if you like, raw with cream, yoghurt, or my favourite, evaporated milk, however what I like to do with most of it is to dry the chunks into amazing sweets to share with friends.
4 – Dry Into Sweets – I gently dry the pieces over my stove, on mesh to ensure good air circulation. They were thin and neatly arranged the first time I did it (see below), but now I just chop them roughly and pile them on the mesh, and occasionally mix them around for an even drying. The stove top is an ideal drying place during the early part of the season (Spring) when my solid fuel stove is still lit. Later the rhubarb is air dried in the greenhouse. The pieces shrink further, up to 30%, depending on variety and maturity of the stems.
During my first attempt I cut the pieces thinly and thought it best to arrange things neatly.
Now I don’t bother. I also use fine oven-proof mesh so that the shrinking pieces don’t drop through the larger mesh, and it also makes occasional turning with a spatula easy.
The drying concentrates the rhubarb flavour. When semi-dried (after about 4 days on the stove) the pieces are slightly chewy with a very pleasing texture, and a wonderful taste, the perfect sweet and sour. You can continue to dry them to a less chewy texture if you like, and they will continue to shrink. When fully dried they are harder, but will keep for much longer, months in fact. I have kept them for over a year, in open bags, without loss of flavour, though they lose their colour.
I used to strive for consistency of flavour, an obsession of processed food makers which I have absorbed, but now I enjoy the fact that pieces of rhubarb, of different age or variety, will absorb sugar differently. Even though each piece will be a sweet and sour parcel the differences in absorbency and texture provide a lottery of intense flavour, sometime very sweet, sometimes very sour. added: Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Dried to a chewy loveliness of sweet and sour.
Everyone seems to like these rhubarb sweets, even people who claim they don’t like rhubarb. Though they are soaked in sugar for taste and for preservation, they are still pieces of raw fruit. They are perfect at the end of a meal instead of, perhaps, after dinner chocolates.
What to do with the leftover juice
We aren’t finished yet as we are still left with lots of sugary rhubarb juice, which is perfect for wine or jam making. It goes quite well on ice cream too. I’ve even had a go at making sweets with it too, sort of boiled sweets, but I need to work on this a little more, to protect my dental work.
Once the rhubarb chunks have been removed from the syrup I boil the juice to kill of natural yeast, and bacteria, and then seal it hot, into jars where it is preserved, just like jam. The jars accumulate (in the back of a cupboard) and I can use the juice whenever I like to add to jam recipes in place of water and sugar, or to make rhubarb wine in winter, when there’s no fresh rhubarb around.
Jars of rhubarb syrup, awaiting another purpose!
So a great way to make good use of a rhubarb glut providing you with impressive sweets and lovely wine.