How to make good use of any amount of rhubarb, without any waste.
I have several rhubarb plants which come at different times, allowing me to spread my production (and time). When I first started growing just a single rhubarb plant used to overwhelm me, but now I have six mature plants, and sometimes I still don’t have enough to do everything I want. I have experimented with recipes until I found things I liked, and developed a system which wastes nothing, not a single chunk and so I can make several products from rhubarb.
Harvesting rhubarb is tricky because it’s difficult to judge by eye. You need enough to complete the intended recipe, plus a little more to account for trimmings. I often bring too much home, deliberately now that I have developed this waste free system.
I take an early harvest whilst the stems are fresh and juicy, and so the rhubarb has less chance of overwhelming me mid season. I wait until numerous smaller stems appear beneath the first growth then I harvest that larger first growth, making room for the smaller growth, and allowing sunlight to get to them. The plant is then left to mature before I take any more.
The rhubarb can start to come through in mid January in snow (left) and can easily cope with a bit of frost (right, in March)
An early start in late February, after a mild winter. This is too young. Wait for the second undergrowth to come, when these first stalks have grown much taller, 4-5 weeks later.
The earlier growth is sweeter and more delicate and is therefore best used for jam, ‘leather’, or pink gin. Later growth may be more fibrous, and acidic, making it perfect for chutney.
Rhubarb chunk sweets, or ‘leather’ are made from any surplus, which was picked for other purposes, and so can be made at any time throughout the season, thus ensuring no waste.
So here is a list of things I currently make every year, and their ideal harvest time. (Several of these items have separate articles and recipes published on this web site).
spring /early summer – rhubarb and ginger jam
spring /early summer – pink gin (rhubarb, ginger and lemon)
summer, when the gooseberries are out – gooseberry and rhubarb chutney (two recipes)
anytime – rhubarb chunk sweets (see article and recipe)
anytime – rhubarb leather (see article and recipe)
winter – – rhubarb wine (from saved juices – See sweets article)
winter (barrel forced) – tusky porridge (see article & video)
– gooseberry and rhubarb chutney
– rhubarb sweets
– rhubarb leather
So no excuses now, get out and harvest as much as you like, or be a good neighbour and help someone out who has too much, there’s always someone with lots of unpicked rhubarb in their garden.
Not a single chunk need be wasted and you could end up with several wonderful foods or drinks, throughout the year, and all made from home grown rhubarb.