Rhubarb grows everywhere in the mountains…except at my house. Long neglected clumps of rhubarb thrive in old Colorado homesteads – so why can’t I grow rhubarb? After three years of unsuccessfully planting commercial rhubarb starts in various corners of my yard, I consulted with the Colorado State University Extension Master Gardeners.
Master Gardener to the Rescue
My rhubarb hero, Master Gardener Festus Hagins, gave me a cutting from his rhubarb and at long last – I’ve got a huge clump of rhubarb. Starting with a healthy plant was only the beginning of my rhubarb journey. We decided that our automatic sprinkler system was keeping the rhubarb too wet. The answer…Dean built a raised-bed that requires me to hand-water the plants. Yes, sometimes I forget, but my rhubarb is forgiving and perks right up when I finally give it a deep soak.
Growing Rhubarb takes Time
I had to learn patience as is new rhubarb “farmer.” The first year after planting, my plant was healthy and full, but I didn’t harvest any stalks so that all the energy would go into establishing a strong root system. This is year number two, and we’re eating all-things rhubarb this summer. I just found out that perhaps I should have waited one more year to harvest, oh well.
Start with the Basics
Mastering a basic rhubarb sauce may not seem like a glamorous endeavor, but when done right, it is deliciously versatile. While I love the flavor of rhubarb, my childhood memories of rhubarb sauce are of an overly sweet bowl of mush…it’s time to revisit rhubarb sauce.
In this recipe, orange juice and a dash of Grand Marnier, add a new dimension to the sauce. Lower sugar and less stirring help embolden the natural flavor and texture of this snappy summer fruit. Serve this sauce over pancakes, as a dessert or layer it into a parfait…it’s all good.
Rhubarb sauce can be tricky to get just right. I aim for a rosy sauce with a glimpse of chunky rhubarb texture. On the tongue, it should have just the right level of sharp rhubarb flavor, mellowed with sweet orange undertones. Spoon this sauce on pancakes instead of syrup or add Grand Marnier and serve layered with vanilla yogurt for an impressive parfait.
- 4 cups rhubarb cut stalks into ½-inch pieces (about 1 pound, leaves removed)
- ¼ orange juice
- ½ cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (optional)
In a large saucepan, combine orange juice, sugar and salt. Cook over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved.
Stir rhubarb into orange juice/sugar mixture and bring to a simmer. Don’t worry if the mixture seems dry. The stalks will gradually release their moisture and a sauce will begin to take shape.
Continue to simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the rhubarb becomes tender. If you would like to retain the chunky texture of rhubarb (like I do), only stir 2-3 times during cooking. More frequent stirring will create a smooth sauce.
Remove from heat and stir in Grand Mariner or another orange liqueur, if desired. Refrigerate 1 hour or overnight.
Color: The color of your rhubarb sauce depends on what variety of rhubarb you are cooking. Green stalks will make pale green sauce, every bit as tasty as the red sauce, but not as attractive. Orange juice may help preserve some of the natural red color of rhubarb or add strawberries which will provide red color as well as a great flavor.