My husband and I were finishing our weekly grocery shopping trip at the local HEB. (Yes, it is very true that my grocery options are much more limited than they were in Charleston, but I am enjoying HEB). We were ending our adventure in the freezer section, when one of the products in the frozen fruit area caught my attention. “Oh, look! They have RHUBARB!” I exclaimed with excitement. “Can we get some? I think there’s room in the budget?” He laughed at my exuberance over frozen rhubarb and agreed.
We are on a very strict budget and thus grocery shopping has become much more regimented. We go in with a specific plan for the upcoming week’s meals and a calculator to make sure that we stay within the allotted budget. But, this particular week, we were under budget! So the splurge on rhubarb was allowed :)
I grew up eating many rhubarb desserts, primarily made by my grandmothers.... pie... crisp... cake... and sauce! Yes, rhubarb sauce, as my grandmothers' called it. Rhubarb cooked with copious amounts of sugar, a little water, and my Grandma's special ingredient: a little strawberry Jello. We would pour the cold sauce into bowls to which we would add a generous serving of heavy cream (because everything is better with a splash of heavy cream). Then, we would eat it with spoons, kind of like it was a chilled, fruity soup. Oh how we loved it! And it generally was a special treat, only to be had in the early summer when Grandma had acquired some rhubarb (and there was some leftover from the pie making).
Since rhubarb, in my experience, is a more northern regional dessert, I did not expect to find it when I moved to SC several years ago. But I did find it occasionally in the produce section of Whole Foods, or at the Farmers' Market, or even on rare occasions in the freezer section of my local grocery store. I even less expected to find it here in southwest Texas. I have tried recreating Grandma's recipe, but decided to put my own spin on it.
Grandma's recipe is great (and always the standard), but I've come to like my rhubarb with a little less sugar, a little more texture (almost more like a compote), removing the Jello (since it isn't something I usually have on hand) and replacing it with a spoonful of strawberry or seedless-raspberry jam (which I usually have on hand), and making it a little more "grown-up" by adding a little vanilla bean to it. And in an effort to become a little more health conscious, I have changed how I serve it. I often mix it in with some greek yogurt (as seen in these photos) or sometimes pour it over frozen yogurt. It is also really delicious as a topping to panna cotta (particularly this fromage blanc panna cotta) Sometime this summer, I'd like to perhaps experiment with turning it into rhubarb frozen yogurt popsicles.
The recipe is simple, even more so if you find the already sliced frozen rhubarb like I did. You can easily tweek the sugar levels, depending on the flavor of your particular rhubarb. Remember, you can always add more sugar and sweetness, but it is difficult to take it away (unless you have an endless supply of rhubarb). You can adjust the texture by adding additional water to make it more "saucy" or cooking it longer to allow the rhubarb to break down further.
1/3 c Water
1 Tbl Lemon Juice
2/3 c Granulated Sugar (adjust based on tartness of rhubarb)
16 oz package of Frozen sliced Rhubarb (approximately 2.25 c; by all means, use fresh if you have it available!)
1 to 2 Tbl Strawberry (or seedless raspberry) jam
1 tsp Vanilla Bean paste
1. In a non-reactive sauce pan (i.e. not aluminum) combine the water, lemon juice, and granulated sugar. Bring to a boil, but do not stir. (stirring can cause the mixture to crystalize)
2. Add the rhubarb and stir gently. Bring back to a boil and simmer gently until the rhubarb breaks down, around 20 minutes. If you want a sauce with more texture, cook it only until the rhubarb just begins to break down. If you prefer more liquid texture, allow the rhubarb to cook until it really breaks down.
3. Add the jam and vanilla bean paste. Stir to combine. Carefully taste some of the sauce to ensure you like the sweetness level. If you find it is too tart for your liking, there are a couple of options. You could add additional granulated sugar, but that does require an additional boiling/simmering time to allow the sugar to dissolve. Or you could add a liquid sugar (such as simple syrup or honey) directly to the rhubarb sauce without cooking it longer.
4. Serve warm or cold, though I prefer the cold method best :) Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.