This was the case at the community garden recently. An orphaned rhubarb plant was growing like gangbusters in an empty plot. Try as I might, there weren't a lot of gardeners taking me up on the offer to harvest the rhubarb stalks and take them home. Many didn't know what to do with it, and others just said, "I don't know how to bake." So I set about trying to make a dent in the rhubarb monster.
How to Harvest Rhubarb
Don't harvest stalks from your rhubarb plant during it's first year of growth. Wait until the second or third year to harvest. Choose stalks that are between 12-18 inches long and reddish in color. Grab an individual stalk from the base and twist it free from the crown. You can also just cut the stalks away with a knife. I prefer this method because it's cleaner and quicker. Leave a few stalks on your plant to keep the plant alive. Cut off and discard the leaves of the rhubarb plant. The leaves are poisonous and should not be eaten.
Make a Rhubarb Simple Syrup
4 cups of chopped rhubarb
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
Cut your rhubarb stalks into 1 inch lengths. Make sure to remove the leaves. Combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly and the fruit has become soft.
Place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and the pour out the contents of the sauce pan into the strainer. If you don't have a fine mesh strainer, use a course strainer lined with cheesecloth. Use the back of the spoon to press the rhubarb against the strainer to squeeze out any liquid.
After the syrup has cooled, pour it into a glass jar or bottle. It should keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. You can also freeze the syrup for longer storage.
Tips: When I told people I was harvesting a rhubarb plant to make simple syrup everyone asked if it would be too tart. The answer is, NO--it isn't too tart. It's actually very sweet. If you (like me) enjoy tart flavors try reducing the amount of sugar. If you happen to walk away when your rhubarb is simmering on the stove for more than 20 minutes it will break down into thin fibers. If this happens, like it did with one batch of mine, you will have to strain it twice to remove any float-y stuff from your syrup.
Now that you have made rhubarb simple syrup, make yourself a rhubarb soda after a long day of working in the garden!
1/2 ounce of rhubarb syrup
12 ounces of carbonated water
Other ways you can use your rhubarb simple syrup: Drizzle it over shortbread, shortbread cookies, fresh strawberries, yogurt, vanilla or strawberry ice cream. Or even over pie! You can also use this syrup in many of your favorite cocktail recipes.
Are you a rhubarb lover, or a rhubarb hater?