I harvested my rhubarb this weekend, taking care to get to the garden before the elephant-eared plants bolted in the growing heat as spring turns to summer. I sorted through that mountain of green and red plant life, trimming away the greens and chopping my way through the ruby red stalks – some as thick as my thumb.
While rhubarb pies and cakes and breads and muffins hold a worthy place in every springtime kitchen, rhubarb sauce is the easy way out. It’s simple to prepare, you can make a little or a lot by simply scaling the recipe, and it tastes delicious.
How to Make Rhubarb Sauce
At its simplest, rhubarb sauce only needs three ingredients (rhubarb, a sweetener and water) and a pot in which to stew them altogether until the rhubarb loses its crispness and softens. The splash of water prevents the rhubarb from burning before it begins to release its juices.
If you have a little more time on your hands, or want to experiment with flavors, adding vanilla bean, citrus, ginger, or even cardamom can enhance the flavor of the sauce, giving it a more balanced, complex flavor. In this recipe, I’ve used honey, lemon (zest and juice) and vanilla beans because it makes for a sauce that is at once simple in flavor enough to be versatile and complex enough to delight.
Simmer the rhubarb about ten minutes, or until those tough and crisp stalks finally yield to the heat of the pot and soften. You can leave the sauce as it is, or, blend it as I do with an immersion blender until it’s velvety smooth. The sauce will thicken ever so slightly as it cools. And you can eat it right away, store it in the fridge up to two weeks, in the freezer for several months or can it, if you like.
How to Use Rhubarb Sauce
Rhubarb sauce, like all fruit sauces, is versatile. You can serve it on its own as you might serve applesauce: warmed up with a spoonful of cream. Or serve it stirred into custard, over homemade yogurt, drizzled over vanilla bean ice cream, or spooned onto sourdough pancakes. You can also use it in savory dishes too, as a balance to roasted pork or grilled duck.
- 2 pounds rhubarb chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup water
- 2/3 cup honey
- Pinch of salt
- 1 lemon juiced with rind finely grated
- 1 vanilla bean
- Toss the rhubarb, water, honey, salt, lemon juice and rind into a heavy, medium-sized saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape its seeds into the pot, and drop in the spent pod.
- Bring the contents of the pot to a simmer over medium-high heat, and continue simmering the rhubarb until it melts, losing its form and breaking down. When completely softened, puree the sauce with an immersion blender until smooth. Transfer to jars.
- The sauce will stay fresh in the fridge up to 2 weeks, or frozen up to 6 months. You can also can this sauce as well.
Other Ways to Flavor Rhubarb Sauce
Rhubarb sauce is versatile, and you can make this recipe your own by making the smallest adjustments. Instead of vanilla bean, add a teaspoon or two of freshly grated ginger. Or stir in the finely grated rind and freshly pressed juice of an orange. If you’re partial to floral flavors, stir in a good splash of rosewater after you’ve pulled the sauce of the heat.
Our Other Favorite Rhubarb Recipes
You can find rhubarb in the spring when its bright, ruby red stalks are plentiful at farmers markets. It also grows easily, and can take over your garden if you let it. Rhubarb is sharply tart, needs sweetening and pairs beautifully with ginger, citrus and, of course, strawberries.
Rhubarb Skillet Cake with Jaggery Crumb is one of a favorite easy springtime cakes to make. You cook rhubarb until soft, cover it with a whole grain batter and top it with jaggery – a natural sweetener popular in Indian cookery.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote is similar to this rhubarb sauce, only we serve it over a honey-sweetened stirred custard.
Cultured Rhubarb Soda is easier to make than you think!
Clumpy Granola with Stewed Rhubarb is wonderful for a springtime breakfast.