I love rhubarb. I am crazy about it. In previous years, I have made rhubarb pies, rhubarb crisps, stewed rhubarb with custard, rhubarb chutneys, rhubarb beverages and even rhubar-be-que sauce.
Yes, I have.
I love rhubarb so much that I actually hoard it in my freezer. People give it to me, and I hide it away and proceed to not use it, to save it for some "special" enough event that never seems to happen. So it was that I came upon some frozen rhubarb my mom gave me dated 2010 while I was cleaning out my freezer. And in my current fermentation-mad state of mind, I thought---ooooh, I could ferment me some of that! So I tried to make rhubarb chutney. Ewwwww. Seriously. And I tried to adapt a fruit kimchi recipe I saw, substituting rhubarb. Ewwwww. It just wasn't working out. What I really loved most of all was stewed rhubarb and none of these were anything like that. How could something so delicious go so wrong? I mean, rhubarb was one of those magical foods that spans both sweet and savoury. How could it suck so much??
Eventually, it dawned on me.
Rhubarb, unlike pretty much every other fruit and most veggies, was not meant to be eaten raw. There was no amount of sweetener, no amount of time spent fermenting, no amount of freezer burn, that could overcome the woody stringy texture of raw rhubarb.
I know, I know. It seems so obvious now. Why NOT cook it? Because we think that heat kills the bacteria we want to colonate in fermented foods? It does. But let's be honest, the level of freezer burn on this rhubarb probably killed the bacteria first. So we need to add bacteria back into it to make this work. It's not such a huge deal. We do the same thing when we make fermented sauces, when we add acids like lemon juices and vinegars, and at other times, too.
Whaaaat--stewed rhubarb needs sugar, too? Also no big deal. We add sugar when making kombucha, too, in fact, sugar feeds the bacteria which makes them happy and so they populate faster. Sounds win-win to me.
So if you, like me, love stewed rhubarb, but were avoiding it because of the sugar content, try making it this way instead. Don't feel guilty. Your belly will thank you.
Not much sugar is used in this recipe, but it is sugar and not honey. Some say that honey has antibacterial properties, so I steer away from it with most of my ferments. But any other real, raw, natural sugar would do--maple syrup, coconut sugar, etc. I like my stewed rhubarb a little tart, so I just didn't put much in. Mashing up strawberries not only sweetens it without added sugar, it also adds bacteria back into it, increasing the fermentation.
If you can't tolerate even the slightest dairy (whey does come from strained yogurt or kefir, after all, be it cow, sheep, or goat) then you could try a culture starter packet. I haven't used these myself since I find whey pretty safe for my stomach. Let me know if you do! You could also use the liquid from a previous ferment--but who wants their rhubarb to taste like sauerkraut or pickles??? Not me.
2 c rhubarb, previously frozen or fresh
2 Tbs raw sugar (I used cane sugar)
1/2 c strawberries
1/4 c whey (or starter of choice)
In medium saucepan on medium heat, simmer rhubarb until it is cooked soft and sauce-like in consistency. If you're using fresh rhubarb, you may need to add some filtered water. Once it cooks down, add sugar.
Remove from heat and let cool. This is important. Heat will kill the bacteria in your whey or starter culture. Let it go cold.
Mash your strawberries, or puree them with a magic bullet. Stir them into the cooled rhubarb. Stir in your whey. Pour it into a glass jar and cover it loosely with the lid. Leave it out on the counter for 2 days. Taste, stir, close tightly, and move to fridge. You're done.
Serve as-is, or over plain yogurt, or in a smoothie, or over coconut milk ice cream. Or let me know what wild and crazy way you choose to eat this awesome stuff!