Rhubarb is a vegetable that grows in bunches with long, green stalks and large green leaves. It has a tart, sour taste and is commonly used to make desserts like pies, jams, and compotes. While rhubarb is in season during the spring and early summer, it can be enjoyed year-round if stored properly for later use.
Should you pick or buy rhubarb for storage?
You can store rhubarb whether you grow and pick it yourself or buy it from a grocery store or farmers’ market. The key is to select rhubarb stalks that are crisp and firm with shiny skin. Avoid pieces that are limp, wrinkled, or have blemishes. The leaves contain oxalic acid and should not be eaten, so remove them before storing the stalks.
How to store fresh rhubarb short-term
If you plan to use your rhubarb within a week, you can simply keep it fresh by storing in the refrigerator. Place the stalks in a perforated plastic bag or wrap loosely in plastic wrap. Make sure there is ample airflow so the rhubarb doesn’t get slimy or moldy. Keep the temperature at or just above 32°F. The cold environment will help slow down deterioration.
Trim the ends and remove any leaves or pieces that show signs of damage. Check periodically during the week and remove any stalks that start to get soft or discolored. Fresh, crisp rhubarb will keep in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.
How to freeze rhubarb for later use
Freezing is the simplest long-term storage method for rhubarb. It stops the vegetable’s metabolism and preserves texture and flavor for 6-8 months in the freezer.
Start with firm, tender stalks. Wash and dry them thoroughly. Trim off the ends and cut into 1-2 inch pieces. For better texture, freeze the pieces spread out on a baking sheet first. This flash freezing prevents clumping when transferred to freezer bags or containers. Once frozen, pack the pieces in airtight bags or containers, squeezing out excess air. Properly frozen, the rhubarb will stay fresh for about 8 months at 0°F.
To use the rhubarb, simply run the frozen pieces under cool water. The ice crystals coating the outside will thaw and you can cut or chop the rhubarb as needed for recipes.
Tips for freezing rhubarb
- Choose young, tender stalks under 1 inch diameter if possible.
- Cut in small pieces to make it easier to use in recipes later.
- Freeze on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet before transferring to bags.
- Press air out before sealing freezer bags or containers.
- Label with quantity and date frozen.
- Use within 8-12 months for best quality and texture.
How to can rhubarb for long-term storage
Canning rhubarb allows it to be shelf-stable and safe to eat for over a year. The high heat processing kills bacteria and seals the jars airtight. The two main methods are boiling water canning and pressure canning.
Boiling water canning
This is the simpler method and only requires a large pot, canning jars, lids and screw bands. You’ll also need a jar lifter, ladle, and bubble popper.
Start with trimmed rhubarb stalks, cutting into 1⁄2-1 inch pieces. Place into a large pot adding 1⁄2 cup sugar per quart of rhubarb. Let stand for 15 minutes until juice appears. Fill sterilized jars leaving 1⁄2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe rims clean.
Once the pot of water is boiling vigorously, lower in the filled jars using a jar lifter. Process pints for 15 minutes and quarts for 20 minutes. Remove and let cool 12-24 hours. Check seals, label and store in a cool, dry place up to a year.
Pressure canning allows you to store rhubarb with lower acidity, creating a higher pH product less prone to botulism. You’ll need a pressure canner, jar rack, canning jars and lids, funnel, ladle, and bubble removing tool.
Prepare the rhubarb as for boiling water canning. Cut into 1⁄2-1 inch pieces, boil 5 minutes in water or juice. Fill jars leaving 1⁄2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Place jars in canner and process pints or quarts for 15 minutes at 5-10 lbs pressure.
Let cool 12-24 hours, check seals, wipe clean and label. The rhubarb should store for 1-2 years in a cool, dry place.
|Canning Method||Jar Size||Processing Time|
|Boiling Water Canning||Pints||15 minutes|
|Boiling Water Canning||Quarts||20 minutes|
|Pressure Canning||Pints or Quarts||15 minutes at 5-10 lbs|
How to store rhubarb by dehydrating
Dehydrating rhubarb removes the moisture and concentrates the flavor. It makes the stalks lighter and easier to package while preserving for use in baked goods, compotes, syrups, and teas.
Select tender stalks free from blemishes. Wash and trim both ends. Cut into 1⁄4-1⁄2 inch slices or dice smaller if desired. A mandoline slicer can create uniform slices quickly.
As a pre-treatment, blanching the slices for 1 minute then cooling in ice water helps retain color and flavor. Pat the slices thoroughly dry.
Arrange in a single layer on dehydrator trays, avoiding overlap. Dehydrate 4-6 hours at 130-140°F until brittle and moisture is removed. Check larger pieces for doneness. Cool completely and pack in airtight containers or plastic bags. Properly dried rhubarb will last 6-12 months stored in a cool, dry place.
To rehydrate for use, place dried rhubarb pieces in hot water for 15-30 minutes. The texture will soften although not to completely fresh. Use rehydrated rhubarb within 2-3 days.
Tips for dehydrating rhubarb
- Choose young, tender stalks under 1 inch diameter.
- Pretreat with blanching to help retain color and flavor.
- Cut thin uniform slices or small dice for faster drying.
- Dehydrate at 130-140°F until completely dried.
- Condition pieces for a week before long term storage.
- Vacuum seal bags or jars for longest shelf life of 6-12 months.
How to store rhubarb by pickling
Pickling rhubarb keeps it crunchy and infuses with different flavors. It’s delicious as a condiment with meats or bruschetta. You can pickle rhubarb using vinegar or fermentation.
For a quick pickle using vinegar:
- Cut rhubarb into 1⁄4 inch slices
- Pack tightly into sterilized jars
- Bring 1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup sugar, and 2 cups water to a boil
- Pour hot vinegar mixture over rhubarb, covering completely
- Add pickling spices like cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, peppercorns
- Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate
- Allow to pickle in the fridge for 1-2 weeks before eating
For a probiotic-rich fermented pickle:
- Trim rhubarb and cut into 1-inch chunks
- Layer pieces into a clean mason jar
- Add spices like peppercorns, coriander, mustard seeds
- Pour over a brine of 4 cups water, 2 Tbsp salt
- Press down rhubarb to submerge in brine, leave 2 inches headspace
- Cover loosely and ferment at room temp 5-7 days
- Check for sour taste then refrigerate
- Allow to continue fermenting in the fridge for 1-3 months
The pickled rhubarb should be refrigerated and keeps for up to 6 months.
How to store rhubarb jam or compote
Turning rhubarb into jams, compotes, or syrups prolongs its shelf life while concentrating the tart flavor. Jam contains 65% sugar which acts as a preservative. Properly prepared, rhubarb jam can be water bath canned and stored for up to a year.
Start by chopping rhubarb and simmering over medium heat with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Allow to cook down to desired consistency before filling sterilized jars. Leave 1⁄4 inch headspace. Process pint jars in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. The jam will form an airtight seal as it cools.
For refrigerator storage, fill washed containers with hot jam and refrigerate for short term storage. It will keep for 2-3 months this way without canning.
Tips for rhubarb jam and compote
- Use approximately 1 cup sugar per 1 lb rhubarb.
- Add spices like cinnamon, vanilla, or ginger.
- Stir frequently and mash rhubarb while cooking.
- Cook to gel or desired consistency.
- Process in a water bath canner for long term storage.
- Store any unsealed jam in the refrigerator.
Storing rhubarb leaves
While rhubarb stalks are edible, the leaves are not. They contain high concentrations of oxalic acid, which is toxic. Never eat the leaves raw.
However, the leaves can be used externally for household purposes. For example, boiling rhubarb leaves makes a solution that can be used as an insecticide or fungicide for garden plants. The leaves can also be used for dyeing fabric or Easter eggs.
If you wish to save rhubarb leaves, it’s best to dry them completely. Hang small bundles or place on a drying rack in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. They can also be dried in the oven on very low heat with the door propped open.
Store the dried leaves whole in sealed bags or containers. You can also crumble them to use as mulch around your garden. Properly dried, rhubarb leaves will keep for 2-3 years.
With proper harvesting and storage methods, rhubarb can be enjoyed year-round. The best ways to store fresh rhubarb for extended use include freezing, canning, dehydrating, pickling, and making jams or compotes. Each method requires preparing the stalks then packaging in airtight containers.
Stored frozen or canned, rhubarb will keep 6-12 months. Dried or pickled rhubarb lasts 4-6 months. Sealed jams and syrups can be shelf-stable up to a year. Always use fresh young stalks and handle carefully to prevent contamination.
Following these instructions will preserve your rhubarb harvest in delicious forms to savor for months after the growing season ends. You’ll be able to add a bright pop of flavor to all your favorite baked treats and dishes throughout the year.