7 delicious ways to use up rhubarb

Rhubarb is a time-honoured favourite food, for sweet and tart reasons.

Words: Kristina Jensen

I live near Picton in the Marlborough Sounds. My dad Eric lives 700km north, near Hamilton. Once a week, sometimes twice, we catch up on the comings and goings of the world, and especially what’s happening in our gardens. One thing we both love to talk about at this time of year is our rhubarb crops. I might be the chef in the family, but my dad’s stewed rhubarb is the best.

He follows my mother’s time-honoured recipe but somehow, his version tastes way better. That might be due to the variety or just that he really loves rhubarb and takes special care preparing it. I try not to eat it all when I visit, but it’s hard to resist. I just want to fill a bowl and eat the lot!

My love affair with rhubarb is life-long. I think I’ve eaten it almost every day, in some way, from when I was small. I love it for breakfast with homemade muesli and yoghurt, for pudding as a crumble with ice cream or custard, or chopped into small pieces and added to a cake or muffin mix.

It came as a lovely surprise to discover that my dear, and very sadly departed, mother-in-law Ethel, also grew fantastic rhubarb crops in Ontario, her only garden success.

It’s very important to note, says my Canadian husband, that this was Canadian rhubarb. It wasn’t – and I quote – the “wishy-washy” varieties we have in NZ. He says ‘Canadian’ rhubarb is mouth-puckeringly sour, a hundred times stronger than any Kiwi kind.

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He remembers that his mother would occasionally allow him and his brother to break off a stalk (under strict warnings never to eat the leaves). They would suck on the end, experiencing a sort of love-hate relationship with the tarty taste.

I’m perfectly happy with my ruby-red sweet stems. Rhubarb is one of my two great gardening successes – the other is salad greens – and a very hardy plant. I’ve learned a lot of good tips for growing it from old-timers.

I think it explains why I have an almost constant supply from my plants throughout the year, with just a small drop in production over winter.


There are over 60 known varieties of rhubarb. The one my husband remembers is probably Hardy Tarty (also known as Colorado Red), a super sour variety grown in the US and Canada. It’s possible Ruby Tart might be a similar kind that we can get here.

Varieties to consider:

Glaskins Perpetual: bright red stems
Victoria: the most popular, red and green stems
Cherry Red: bright, luminous red stems
Dalmatian: green and red stems
Ruby Tart: ruby red stems

Note: some rhubarb varieties have red stems, and some are naturally green.


1. rotted-down horse manure or sheep pellets;
2. a dead possum or a fish frame dug into nearby soil;
3. fresh grass clippings;
4. decaying stalks and leaves cleared away regularly to maintain good airflow around the plant;
5. no mulch around the growing crown;
6. if growing from seed, don’t harvest in its first year.

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Rhubarb, Orange & Cardamom Custard Tart

While technically a vegetable, rhubarb has found its match with sweet, wobbly custard.

Kristina’s Rhubarb “Roo” Bars

One bite of this slice and you’ll be forever in love with rhubarb.

Eric’s Roasted Rhubarb

Take your rhubarb to the next level by popping it in the oven.

Chipotle Crab Apple & Rhubarb Ketchup

Crab apples give this tomato-free ketchup a robust character.

Rhubarb and Rosehip Jam

With rhubarb and hints of rosehip, this is not your average jam recipe.

Michael Van de Elzen’s Buffalo Yoghurt Pannacotta with Rhubarb Compote & Praline

This silky Italian dessert is elevated with buffalo yoghurt and fresh rhubarb.

Rhubarb Frosé Ice Blocks (alcoholic)

For a refreshing twist on the popular frosé cocktail, try these adult ice blocks with stewed rhubarb.

NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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