Summer Rhubarb Harvest: 4 Family-Favorite Recipes
Rhubarb – is it a common ingredient in your cooking? If you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh rhubarb in your garden, at a local farmer’s market, or even in your grocery store, then you may discover some new ways to cook and bake with this fibrous stalky plant.
In my family, there’s a long tradition of growing rhubarb – although I don’t currently have any plants at my house – and enjoying it in a few favorite recipes. The memories and stories attached to these recipes always come to mind.
As I gathered these recipes for this post, my mom and I had great conversations about how she learned to preserve and cook rhubarb from her mother, my Grandma Stewart.
One summer in the early 1950s when Mom and her older sister Ruth were about 10 and 12 years old, respectively, they asked for a new softball. The cover was falling off the one their older brothers had used and outgrown. Grandma offered them a deal: Earn a nickel for each package of rhubarb they picked from the family garden and prepared for the freezer. They readily agreed – even though, as Mom told me, “We each earned only 2.5 cents per package!”
So those two girls picked piles of rhubarb stalks from the 25-yard row of bushy plants and carried them into the basement. It had the perfect “rhubarb processing” setup with a utility sink for washing the stalks and a washstand to use as a cutting station. They each had a cutting board and knife with a large enamel pan between them. When the pan was full, the girls switched to packing the cut pieces into quart-sized freezer boxes and carrying them upstairs for Grandma to inventory and document the count on the wall calendar before Mom and Ruth stacked the boxes in the big freezer.
Although the girls didn’t work on this money-making task every day, it was only a few weeks before they earned enough money to get their new softball.
Rhubarb is super easy to freeze – in freezer zip-top bags nowadays. Just wash and dry the stalks. Be sure to trim off and discard any leaves or greenery, which is toxic. Then cut the stalks into small, uniform pieces and fill the bags. You may want to measure the amount of rhubarb in each bag based on the recipes you plan to use later. It’s also a good idea to label the bags with the contents and date they go into the freezer.
You can keep rhubarb in the freezer for nearly a year. For other tips on freezing and cooking with frozen rhubarb, refer to Taste of Home’s article “How to Freeze Rhubarb (So You Can Eat It All Year Long).”
This cake with its moist texture and soft pieces of sweetly tart rhubarb is one of my favorite cakes. My mom would make this cake during most spring seasons once the rhubarb in our garden was ready to harvest. Maybe I also liked the connection to our family roots back in Wisconsin because the rhubarb plants were transplanted from Grandpa Stewart’s garden there. Whatever the reason, it’s a dessert that I’m always happy to bake or eat!
Mom also counts on this go-to recipe when she needs to take a dessert to a social occasion because it doesn’t require frosting, which is usually more difficult to transport. For years my parents square danced with a club in their town. On many Saturday nights, they were dressed in matching dance outfits – Western shirt for Dad and a short dress with a flouncy petticoat (and pettipants) under the skirt for Mom. The dances they attended also included a carry-in dinner afterwards – and that’s when Mom often pulled out this rhubarb cake recipe. I know the other square dancers loved it as much as I did because the cake pan always came back empty.
Rhubarb Cake Recipe
1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
2 cups finely chopped rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup sour milk (To sour the milk, add 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon white vinegar to the milk. Stir together in a cup until the baking soda dissolves.)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (optional; suggestion: pecans or walnuts)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 9 x 9 cake pan (or equivalent size pan).
Mix all cake ingredients in a large bowl.
Pour the cake batter into the baking dish.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of sugar, cinnamon and nuts on top of the cake mixture.
Bake for 45-50 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool for 20 minutes before cutting and serving. Can be served warm or at room temperature.
Download a print-friendly Rhubarb Cake recipe:
The family connection I have with rhubarb pie brings in my husband’s side of the family – specifically, my father-in-law Ron. Apparently, he was a huge lover of rhubarb pie. That’s not so unusual, but the topic came up somehow during the rehearsal dinner the night before Dan’s and my wedding. My brother Doug was in on that conversation, and he squirreled away an idea that night. Much to our surprise at a brunch the morning after our wedding, Doug arrived with a rhubarb pie he baked sometime between wedding festivities and gave it to Ron, who was thrilled to receive it. I have no doubt Ron enjoyed every bite of that pie and maybe shared some with my mother-in-law Marilyn.
Whenever Mom or I make pies with fresh rhubarb, we like to use the recipe from her old Becky Crocker’s Cook Book that she received as a bridal shower gift. I’ve shared the pie and pie crust recipes here.
Rhubarb Pie Recipe
Makes one 8- or 9-inch pie
Ingredients for 8-inch pie
Pastry for a two-crust pie (see the bonus recipe below if you would like to make your own)
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups rhubarb, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon butter
Ingredients for 9-inch pie
Pastry dough for a two-crust pie (see the bonus recipe below if you would like to make your own)
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups rhubarb, cut into small pieces 1 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix the rhubarb and sugar. (If rhubarb is harvested earlier in the spring, you can use less sugar.)
Add the flour and mix lightly through the filling mixture.
Line the pie pan with the bottom layer of pastry.
Add the pie filling.
Dot the top of the filling with pieces of butter.
Cover the pie with the top layer of pastry that has slits cut in it.
Sprinkle the top crust lightly with sugar.
Bake 40-50 minutes until the crust is nicely browned and juice begins to bubble through the slits. (Note: If the edges of the pie crust are getting too brown, cover them with strips of aluminum foil or use a pie crust shield.)
Serve slightly warm. Can be covered and kept in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Download a print-friendly Rhubarb Pie recipe:
Pie Crust Recipe
Ingredients for 8-inch pie
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lard (or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons hydrogenated shortening such as Crisco)
3 tablespoons cold water (Tip: Add ice cubes to the water to keep it very cold.)
Ingredients for 9-inch pie
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup lard (or 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons hydrogenated shortening such as Crisco)
1/4 cup cold water (Tip: Add ice cubes to the water to keep it very cold.)
Measure sifted flour into a bowl and mix salt through it.
With a pastry blender or fork, cut in the shortening until shortening particles are the size of giant peas.
Sprinkle the mixture with water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing lightly with a fork until all the flour is moistened.
Gather dough together with fingers so it cleans the sides of the bowl.
Press firmly into a ball.
Divide the dough roughly in half. (You can also keep the dough wrapped in waxed paper or plastic wrap in the refrigerator until ready to use.)
Round up each piece.
Roll out the larger piece on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Aim for a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch and about 1 inch larger than the perimeter of the inverted pie pan to allow for the pie pan depth.
Fold the dough in half and carefully transfer it to the pie pan. Unfold and ease the dough loosely into the pie pan, being careful not to stretch the dough.
Roll out the smaller piece of dough to the same thickness and to the size a little larger than the diameter of the (noninverted) pie pan.
If needed, cut slits or other shapes from the top pie crust to allow steam to escape during baking.
After placing the pie filling into the dough-lined pie pan, fold the top crust in half and transfer it carefully to fit over the filling.
Trim off overhanging edges of the dough with a knife or scissors.
Crimp the edges of the crust together with a fork or other decorative edging. (Check out some cool decorative pie crust edge options from Craftsy: “12 Easy Ways to Make Instagram-Worthy Pie Crust Edges.”)
Download a print-friendly Pie Crust recipe:
My Grandpa Stewart had a major sweet tooth, so of course he loved to add jams, jellies, and preserves to his toast or English muffins. He often reached for the jar of Candy Jam made by my grandma. This rhubarb-flavored jam has a “surprise” ingredient – pieces of orange candy slices. You know, those orange-flavored jelly candies coated in sugar and shaped like small orange slices?
Although I’m not a jam and jelly fan, Mom and my brother Doug have carried on the jam-loving tradition from Grandpa. After Doug got married, the jam-making “apron” was passed on to my sister-in-law Julie, who now makes Candy Jam so my brother can still enjoy this special treat at breakfast.
Candy Jam Recipe
Makes 8 pint jars
7 cups rhubarb, cut into small pieces
4 cups sugar
16-ounce package of orange candy slices, cut into small pieces (Cutting tip: Dip kitchen shears into a cup of hot water before cutting each candy slice to minimize the candy pieces sticking to the shears.)
Stir together the rhubarb and sugar and let it sit for 2 hours.
Heat the mixture in a saucepan for 10 minutes over medium heat until the sugar melts and the mixture starts to boil.
Add orange candy pieces.
Continue to boil the mixture for 15 minutes until it starts to thicken.
Pour jam into hot jars. Wipe off any spilled jam on the jars and seal the jars with lids and rings. (You can heat the jars in hot water or the oven.)
Listen for the jar lids to make a popping sound to indicate the jars are sealed properly.
Download a print-friendly Candy Jam recipe:
While growing up, Mom remembers Grandma making this sauce from fresh or frozen rhubarb. The family would eat it at any meal, and it was an easy way to add a sweet touch to their menus. Nowadays, I like to drizzle this sauce over a dish of vanilla ice cream for a touch of sweet and tart. It would also be tasty on pancakes or waffles.
Rhubarb Sauce Recipe
Makes 2 cups
2 cups rhubarb, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
Mix the ingredients in a saucepan.
Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, and bring to a boil for 1 minute to ensure the sugar is dissolved.
Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the desired consistency – approximately 5-10 minutes.
Serve the sauce warm or cold.
Store the sauce in the refrigerator.
Download a print-friendly Rhubarb Sauce recipe:
What family-favorite recipes do you have and what memories or stories are attached to them? Or does anyone have another rhubarb recipe to share? Let me know below in the comments.