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Making rhubarb sauce is an easy way to enjoy the tangy taste of rhubarb on ice cream, pork or just by itself. The sauce is a combination of rhubarb and sugar that blends tartness and sweetness while allowing the flavor of rhubarb to stand out. Using fresh, ripe rhubarb will impart the best flavor to your sauce, and storing it properly will enable you to enjoy the sauce even when the bright rhubarb has faded from the garden.
The key to the success of any recipe, especially a simple one like rhubarb sauce, is the quality of the ingredients. Most produce items are available year-round in large grocery stores, but seasonality still matters. You can get fresher, more flavorful products when they are in season because in the off-season the fruits and vegetables are picked early and transported from places with different climates. Buy rhubarb in the spring and summer. If you have a penchant for gardening, you can grow your own rhubarb: it thrives in cool climates like those found in the northern United States.
Color can be deceptive when you are evaluating rhubarb. It can be red, pink, green or mottled, and none of the colors implies ripeness. Instead, the indicator of freshness and ripeness in rhubarb is texture. It should be crisp and firm like celery. Do not use rhubarb that has softened or gone limp, and avoid stalks with black discoloration — this indicates that the plant was frostbitten.
Once you have chosen your rhubarb, remove the leaves immediately. Rhubarb contains oxalic acid, which is also found in spinach. The acid is concentrated in the leaves, and it makes them toxic to humans and animals. During World War I, several people died from substituting rhubarb leaves for other green vegetables in response to shortages caused by the war. Keep the leaves away from your rhubarb sauce.
The components of your rhubarb sauce are a matter of personal taste. Different people eat rhubarb in different ways. Some eat it plain and enjoy the tart flavor, while others cannot stand to eat it unless it is sweetened. Keep in mind the preferences of the people that will be eating the sauce when you decide how much sugar to add.
If you have enough rhubarb to make a large batch of rhubarb sauce, consider canning some of the sauce so you can enjoy the taste of rhubarb through the winter. The acid in the stalk inhibits the growth of bacteria in rhubarb sauce, making it a prime candidate for home canning because you can jar it using a water bath method rather than investing in the expensive equipment necessary for pressure canning. Make sure to use jars and lids designed for home canning, and use a recipe for canned rhubarb sauce that tells you how long to leave the filled jars in a boiling water bath. Most canned fruits need 20 to 30 minutes of boiling time, but the exact length depends on the ingredients you use.