Rediscovering Sweet and Savory Rhubarb

Sweet and savory rhubarb is worth another look. Freshly picked at the market it’s an unpolished gem, rough and seemingly unrefined. Many people don’t recognize it unless it’s dressed up with strawberries in a pie. But rhubarb is a very flavorful and versatile vegetable, though it’s more often treated as a fruit. The stalks are crisp and quite tart when eaten raw. Many locals tell stories of picking fresh rhubarb from their family garden as a child and dipping the stalks in sugar to make a sweet snack.

A bowl of dessert with ice cream on top.
A bunch of vegetables are on display at the market.

In late Spring, rhubarb is found in farmers markets and grocery stores throughout Western Massachusetts.  Many people find it easy to grow in New England.  Keep in mind the leaves of the plant contain oxalic acid and are toxic.  Rhubarb plants will spread and produce plenty of reddish stalks to harvest by the third year.

A bowl of diced apples being cooked.

Rhubarb can be prepared in both savory and sweet recipes; it can be served alongside an entree, or made into a delicious dessert. When rhubarb is in season from May until late June, I gather as much as possible so it’s helpful to have many different ways to prepare and preserve the bounty. 

A plate of food and bowl of beans on the table.

Rhubarb Recipes


6 large Rhubarb stalks, peel if skin is thick, roughly cut in med. dice
1/2 -3/4 cup sugar
Optional: add 1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced

Place rhubarb dice and sugar in a small saucepan.  Moisten with 1-2 Tbsp water.  Bring to a simmer and turn heat to med-low,  stirring occasionally (add strawberries if using)  until rhubarb is softened but not mush.  Remove from heat and pour into bowl or jar to cool.

Serve over fruit, ice cream, scones, biscuits or shortcake with whipped cream.  Keeps 2 weeks in refrigerator.

6 servings

1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
pinch salt
6 Tbsp cold butter, cut in small pieces
3 Tbsp ice water (approx.)

For dough: Preheat oven to 425.  Lightly grease baking sheet or line with parchment.  Mix flour and salt together.  Work butter in by hand, with a pastry cutter or food processor until the mixture is crumbly.  Add just enough water so dough can be gathered into a ball.  Chill 15 minutes, wrapped, if dough is soft.

Lightly dust rolling pin, work area, and hands with flour.  Roll dough into a circle about 10 inches in diameter, even thickness.  Carefully move pastry dough to the baking sheet.

Serves 6-8

For Rhubarb:

1 1/2 lb rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2” pieces
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 quart fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and cut in ½

In a large bowl toss together rhubarb, sugar and cornstarch.  Let macerate for 15 minutes.  Add strawberry halves and let sit another 5-10 minutes.

For Dough:

1  2/3 cups all purpose flour
3 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter, cut in ½ inch cubes
2/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In an electric mixer or food processor with paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Mix to combine.  Add the butter, and pulse or mix until the flour resembles coarse meal.  Add the 2/3 cup cream and mix or pulse until dough begins to come together.   Scrape down the sides of bowl and paddle as necessary.  Remove to a bowl, and gently pat dough together, adding in any stray crumbs.

Place rhubarb mixture in a shallow 2 ½ qt casserole or baking pan in an even layer.  Scoop 2” balls of the dough and flatten them into biscuit like discs.  Place biscuits on fruit mixture, leaving about 1” between.  Brush with remaining Tbsp heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar.   Bake cobbler until fruit is bubbling and biscuits are golden brown, about 40-45 mins (place sheet pan on rack below in case it bubbles over).

Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

Yields 4 cups

2 lbs rhubarb, cleaned, trimmed, and diced
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup dried cherries (raisins, dried cranberries or apricots (chopped) can be substituted
5 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp dry red wine
2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp salt
pinch each cinnamon, allspice and cayenne
1/2 cup minced red onion
3/4 cup celery cut into 1/2 inch slices
optional: 1 Tbsp jalapeno seeded and minced
2 tsp orange zest
2 tsp lime juice

Place rhubarb in a colander and sprinkle with sugar.  Let it drain for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile cook the honey, cherries, vinegar, wine, mustard seeds, salt and spices in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until syrupy.

Stir in the onion and celery and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the rhubarb, and cook over medium heat for 10 mins., stirring occasionally. Do not overcook, the rhubarb should be tender but not mushy.  Add the jalapeno if desired, and the orange zest and cook 1 minute.  Add the lime juice and remove from heat.  Let cool and place in mason jars- store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.