8 Steps to Canning Fresh Rhubarb: Making summer jelly on a bus

If you are from the north then you are most likely familiar with Rhubarb. If you are not familiar while this particular tasty plant the best way to describe it is that it has a tart flavor and it looks sort of like a red celery stalk after being harvested. I have been eating rhubarb as far back as I can remember. Treats like rhubarb jelly and strawberry rhubarb pie where often available in the summertime.

Harvest Some Rhubarb

First you have to find some rhubarb. Luckily for me, there was a beautiful bounty of it growing and ready to be harvested in my grandmother’s garden in upstate New York. Cut the rhubarb stalks near the bottom of the plant with a pair of garden scissors. Trim off the large leaves at the top. We put those back around the plants to act as a mulch, preventing too much grass from growing in the newly sunlit area. Try to leave some of the newer leaf growth that are growing towards the center of the plant. This will help it continue to regrow more rhubarb.

Clean and Cut your Rhubarb

Once you have collected your rhubarb gently rinse it with cool water and set aside. After all of the rhubarb stalks are clean, cut them into bite sized pieces, approximately a half inch wide. Set about 6-8 cups of cut rhubarb aside for your jelly. The recipe my mother gave me measured the rhubarb in pounds for some reason. We probably ended up getting about 25 ponds of it harvested, so any leftovers can be stored in freezer bags and then frozen for future use for pies or dumplings.

Prepare Your Ingredients

In a large bowl ( and I do mean really large ) combine your rhubarb with approximately 4 cups of sugar. Mix the sugar in well, making sure to coat all of the rhubarb. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for one to two days. This allows the sugars to help break down the stalks, making it easier to cook down. You can also separate it into several smaller bowls or quart size zip lock bags if needed before storing in the refrigerator.

Cooking the Rhubarb

Pour the rhubarb and sugar mixture into a large pot. Make sure you scrape all of the sugar into the pot as well. Bring it all to a boil. Reduce the heat to a medium low and simmer for at least one hour. Cooking times can vary based on your altitude and thickness preferences. Make sure that you stir it frequently to avoid burning or scorching. Jelly should be ready to can when it has thickened to a nice syrup consistency. Just before pouring the jelly, add a few teaspoons of lemon juice to your mixture to help raise the acid levels in the jelly.

Preparing the jars

While cooking your rhubarb, prepare your canning jars. Wash the jars and lids and then put them all in another large pot to heat and sterilize them. Make sure to rapidly boil them for a minimum of 10 minutes. I use a canning rack, which helps to remove the hot jars when ready to pour the jelly. My mother happened to have a canning pot with rack, as well as plenty of jars and lids on hand for me to use. You can also purchase a canning “kit” at most grocery stores or online. ( Get a canning kit on Amazon )These usually come with a funnel, a can gripper, and a magnetic lid grabber. Some of them have more stuff, but you really only need the basics to begin with.


Use a pot holder or a jar grabber to remove all of the jars from the hot water. I just set all of mine on a small kitchen towel on the counter. Having hot jars prevents any breaking when pouring hot ingredients into the jars. Then very carefully pour your rhubarb jelly into the jars, making sure to leave a minimum of a quarter inch of space at the top of the jar. I use a funnel to help keep the top rim of the jars clean. If you spilled any of the jelly onto the rims, you will need to wipe them down with a clean cloth. Put on the lids and tighten down your rings gently but firmly to hand tight.

This is where some people feel it can get complicated. But, because this is a jelly, you can put all of your filled jars into a water bath for sealing. No need for a pressure cooker. Boil them for ten minutes and them set aside to cool. Tighten the lid just slightly at the beginning of the cooling stage. While the jelly is cooling you can also shake the jars gently so help keep the contents from seperating. To check if your seals or good, simply push the center of the lid, movement means you did not get a good seal. Don’t worry though, the jelly is still good and can be used right away and stored for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Now, because I did this on a bus, with a propane stove, I decided to use my crock-pot or as people call them now, insta-pots. Several years ago I received it as a gift from my mother in law. One of the cool features of it is that it is also a pressure cooker. And because it is digital, all I have to do is press the canning button. It makes the correct pressure ( even at high altitude ) and then sets a ten minute timer. It’s a very easy to use, no fuss machine. ( You can get a good one on Amazon ) When the timer ends, just turn the pressure release valve and wait for the pressure to stabilize. The machine has a safety lock feature that will not allow you to open it until the pressure is safe.

Eating your Rhubarb

My favorite way to eat rhubarb jelly is on some warm toasted rye pumpernickel swirl bread. You can serve it with pita chips as dip or simply have it with peanut butter on a sandwich. And because rhubarb has a tart taste you could probably mix in a little Worcestershire sauce and hot pepper flakes to make a nice spicy sweet and sour sauce.

Storing your Jelly

When properly sealed, jars can last a minimum of one year on the shelf. It’s best to keep them in a cool , dark place to prevent any color changes that can happen with the sunlight. It is also a good idea to remove the outer rings to prevent rusting, which can potentially compromise your seals. Make sure you also write the date and contents somewhere on your jars. You can use labels or write it directly on the lid or jar with permanent marker. This really helps identify things after some time has passed. Fresh canned jelly also makes a great homemade gift for family and friends. Cut a small square of fabric, put it over your seal and then put your ring back on. Tie a small note card on with a ribbon to personalize your gift.

So there you have it. I hope this helps you to have the confidence to go out and start canning today! If I can do it on a bus in the New York mountains, you can do it at home.

Items Used in our Rhubarb Jelly:

Lemon Juice
Mason Jars
Canning Pot
Canning Kit

Special Thanks:

Curtis for getting us safely to NY on a bus!

My Mom for letting us harvest her Rhubarb

Nick for helping every step of the way, I hope you learned something.

Harlen for helping us harvest