Monday, May 21, 2012

How to Freeze Rhubarb in 4 Steps

Rhubarb at Farmers Market

Rhubarb is a staple in many Maine gardens; I know it is in mine. In the right soil and under the proper growing conditions, it comes back every year with a vengeance. As a kid I often picked and peeled rhubarb and dipped it in a little sugar before eating. As an adult, my tastes have changed but I still love rhubarb in a warm crisp or in cookies. *

During the summer there’s an abundant supply of rhubarb but when winter rolls around, it’s now where to be seen. So how can we enjoy rhubarb in all its glory during the winter months? By blanching and freezing it. Here’s how:

Step 1: Select the Best Rhubarb

Only select undamaged stalks of rhubarb with no signs of spoilage. If the majority of the stalk is split, toss it. If only a small portion of the stalk is damaged, cut that part off and keep the rest. Choose stalks that are at the thickness you prefer.

Step 2: Prepare for Blanching

I wait until I’m ready to blanch the rhubarb before I pick and peel it. This way the stalks stay fresh and keep their color and texture.

Trim & Peel: Trim the ends of the rhubarb and peel. I use my cutting knife to quickly and easily whisk away all peelings.

Cut: Cut rhubarb into chunks ½ inch to an inch in size. I prefer my chunks a little smaller so I cut them to ½ an inch. Size yours to your preference.

Step 3: Blanching

Bring Water to Boil: Fill a pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Select the size of pot according to how much rhubarb you’ll be blanching.

Prepare Iced-Water: While waiting for the water to boil, fill a large bowl or clean kitchen sink with iced-water.

Blanch: When water boils, add rhubarb either directly to water or place a strainer full in the pot. Remove after one minute. **

Bathe in Iced-Water: Immediately submerge the rhubarb in a bath of iced-water after removing from the boiling water. Leave in water until cool to the touch. This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. An ice bath is needed to stop the cooking process.

Step 4: Freezing

There are two ways to freeze rhubarb or any other fruits and vegetables: dry pack or tray pack.

Dry Pack: To dry pack, simply blot away excess moisture from rhubarb and place in air tight freezer bags or containers. Always leave a half inch of head space between the rhubarb and top of the container. Label and freeze.

This method freezes rhubarb as one block. If using this method, add precise measurements to your baggies such as 1 to 2 cups and label.

Tray Pack: Again, blot away excess moisture and place rhubarb on a cookie sheet. Separate the pieces so they are not touching and pop into the freezer until firm. Once firm, empty tray into freezer bags or container.

I prefer to use the tray pack method when freezing rhubarb because each piece freezes individually. I can shake out the amount I need and pop the rest back into the freezer.

When you blanch rhubarb before you freeze it, you’re helping to retain its flavor, nutrients, color and texture. What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy rhubarb?

* I follow the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe on the inside of the Quaker Oats canister and substitute diced rhubarb for raisins.

** If I’m going to blanch several batches of rhubarb I strain it into an empty bowl after blanching and save the hot water. When I’m ready for the next batch I return the water to the pot and start the process all over again.

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