26 June 2015

Rhubarb Catch-Up

Summer has been so slow to get going, it seems the only thing growing out in the back yard is rhubarb.  Strangely, it's doing so well we can hardly use it all.  So to catch up, we made ketchup.

Rhubarb ketchup is a thing of great beauty.  It looks good, it tastes good, and it's a great way to use the big old fibrous stalks that you left too long to reasonably use in a pie...

Hot and Sour Rhubarb Ketchup

loosely adapted from Marguerite Patten's ketchup recipes

1-1/2 lb chopped rhubarb stalks
2 sweet white onions, diced
2 c water
1/2 c raw cane sugar + more to taste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 thai chili peppers, stemmed and split
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 c spiced vinegar (see below)

Combine the rhubarb, onion, water, sugar, garlic and hot peppers in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil.  Stir well to make sure all the sugar is dissolved, then turn down and simmer until the rhubarb and onions are soft.   

Puree the mixture with an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender, or run it through a food mill) and return to the stove.  Simmer until reduced to thick sauce.  

Stir in the fish sauce and spiced vinegar.  Taste it; add more sugar if needed or otherwise adjust your seasoning.  Simmer until desired ketchup-thickness.

Transfer to a clean jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator.   Alternatively, you can fill sterile jars with hot ketchup and heat process for 10 minutes, saving the fridge space.

Don't have cheesecloth around to tie those spices up in? Don't
worry.  Infuse the vinegar then strain them out.
Spiced Vinegar

2 c white vinegar (5% acetic acid)
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp broken-up star anise
1 cinnamon stick

Put everything in a saucepan with a lid.  Heat over medium until it comes to a boil then remove from heat.  Leave, covered, for at least 2 hours to infuse the vinegar.  Strain through a sieve when you are ready to use.


Marguerite Patten died recently, at the age of 99.  I can't help but figure she had something right about cooking and eating to have made that far.  

I didn't know anything about Patten before I met Fefe Noir and her ever-increasing collection of old British cookbooks.  What we have of Patten's (handed down from her mother and carefully protected in resealable bags so that the loose pages don't get lost) only scratches the surface of her bibliography, but they are well used -- as much for technique and inspiration as for actual recipes.  If nothing else, I owe her a great debt of gratitude for giving me permission to make ketchup out of things that aren't tomatoes.*

*I grew up in Heinz country.  Literally in the midst of tomato fields that fed the local factory which produced ketchup from 1910 until it closed in 2014.  I was reared on Heinz ketchup** so the idea that ketchup is made, always, from tomatoes was just woven into me.

**Well, okay, if we bought ketchup, it was Heinz, but mom did make her own ketchup.  From tomatoes.

This is what I love about Marguerite Patten: she is full of solutions.  I tore the kitchen apart looking for cheesecloth to tie all my spices in a bundle for simmering with the rhubarb.  As I was puzzling how I was going to get my spice mix infused through the ketchup I happen to notice that some of Patten's recipes used spiced vinegar, not a spice sachet.  Whoa-ho, then!  What a fantastic solution.  Infuse the vinegar and stir it in later.  Brilliant.

There is no recipe in her book for rhubarb ketchup, and certainly no recipe with thai chilies and star anise.  But she is very reliable about the proportions of fruit to sugar to vinegar.  So when we found ourselves with a glut of rhubarb (the opposite problem to what we faced a couple years ago), the obvious plan of attack was to pull the 500 Recipes: Jams, Pickles, Chutneys off the shelf.


Hot and sour rhubarb ketchup is fancy, but it's not snobby.  Served here with  grilled cheese made with sprouted grain sourdough bread from Rocket Bakery and smoked cheddar cheese from Five Brothers Artisan Cheese purchased at Admiral's Market.  Er, okay, maybe a little bit snobby...

Oh and by the way, you really want to make this ketchup.  Working on the recipe I knew we hit it when, tasting a batch, I immediately thought, "this would go really well with cava!".  Which means it would go really well with champagne... and there's your excuse to have champagne with your french fries.  The good news is that although you can serve it to your snobby friends, it's not really a snobby ketchup: also goes well with burgers and beer.   

11 June 2015

Why They Call it Fishing...

In which caribougrrl remembers how to cast a line, practices her birding skills, and is reminded why it's called fishing (not called catching).

It looks like a good spot to fish, right?  Or does it not? 

5:00 AM: I finally relent to the pacing and whining dogs and get up to feed them.  Every morning, starting at about 4:15, the dogs start to worry that I will forget to give them breakfast. This is a completely normal start to my day, every day.  But today is fishing day.  And it is pouring with rain.  POURING.  I know, technically, that you can go fishing in the rain.  I think, perhaps, it might even be the best weather for fishing.  Did I mention POURING with rain?  I feed the dogs, double check all my gear.  Wonder if I have enough snacks.  

5:20 AM: It is still pouring with rain, so I go back to bed.

6:15 AM: Fefe Noir wakes me up to tell me it stopped raining.  I admit this news feels a little disappointing.

A re-enactment of the thoughtful gesture of leaving coffee
in a thermos so it will still be hot when Fefe Noir finally
wakes up.  The cats do not take artistic direction well and
refused to participate in the staging.  Sam showed slightly
more compliance but insisted on ennui rather than
blissful sleep.
6:35 AM: Standing in the hallway in my rubber boots, I realize that in the event I actually catch a fish, I want something to stun it with before bleeding it.  I rifle through the toolbox.  I realize that in the event I actually catch a fish, I might also want grippy gloves to hold on to it.

6:45 AM: At the local gas station, I buy a couple of cheap pairs of rubberized gloves.  I resolve my snack issue by buying a chocolate bar: dark, with nuts, so I can imagine it counts as a healthy breakfast.

7:05 AM:  I am back at the house because I discover I left without making coffee.  What?

7:15 AM: I leave a thermos of coffee and a mug on the bedside table next to a snoring Fefe Noir.  One of the dogs and at least one cat have stolen the warm spot I left.

7:20 AM: While I drive, I consider the options in my tackle box and make a plan.  I remind myself about the things I tend to forget when casting, like pinning the line down before releasing the spool.  Um, like releasing the spool, at that.  I am in good mental form, visualizing the entire process. 

7:25 AM:  I turn down Fisherman’s Road and think this is a sign.  Then I think it is in fact, literally, a sign.  I no longer know what to make of it.

When caribougrrl turns the car onto Fisherman's Road, she takes it as a sign.
7:45 AM:  As I approach my selected fishing spot, I review in my mind all the advice I have gotten: stay away from beaver ponds, find a beaver pond, work the pools in a river, trout go after the egg-like lures in the spring, worms are best, minnows are best.  Suddenly I stop in my tracks and think, “Where is my fishing rod?”

8:05 AM: I do not find the fishing rod in the car.

8:15 AM: I find the fishing rod leaning against the wall by the front door, right where I left it so that I wouldn’t forget it.  Not a creature is stirring.  Not one.  No one seems to notice I have left the house and come back.  All I can hear is snoring.

caribougrrl decided to try her luck in the streams because
even though it's June, it's so early in the season, the alder
catkins are still out and the leaves are only starting to unfurl.
8:25 AM:  Heading from the car with fishing rod in-hand and a strong sense of deja-vu, I pick out the Oh Canada song of a white throated sparrow.  On the way to the fishing hole, I am amazed by the deafening level of bird song. 

(I am more amazed that no matter how many birders I’ve spent time with and how many hundreds of collective hours they’ve spent trying to teach me stuff, I am terrible at bird identification.  White throated sparrow and black capped chickadee are the only ones I feel confident about by ear.  And I’m not convinced I would know the sparrow by sight.)

8:45 AM:  I debate between a float and a sinker to go with my hook and fake egg.  On the one hand, the egg is supposed to float.  On the other hand, I am worrying about whether the float has enough weight to allow me to cast.  I decide on a small sinker but two glo-eggs.  The stupid squishy looking fake fish eggs are really difficult to jam on the hook and they smell weirdly like diesel fuel.  I cannot imagine how this might be attractive, but then again, I am not a trout.  In the end, I only put one on because I can’t face doing it twice.

8:55 AM:  I struggle to dredge up the muscle memory I need for casting.  Every few attempts, nothing happens, the line doesn’t leave.  In between the times I forget to release the spool, I spend a lot of time untangling.  Eventually I find my rhythm.

9:25 AM: I become aware of the black flies lined up under the rim of my hat and along my collar.  I decide the eggs aren’t doing it.  I inspect the tackle box and consider the big white grubs but switch to a wiggly thing with glitter on it.

caribougrrl brought a sampling of tackle with her; since she doesn't really
know what she is doing, she just brought the bright and shiny things... 

9:50 AM:  As much as I am enjoying casting and reeling, casting and reeling, casting and reeling, I have not actually seen any fish.  I have not even seen any signs of fish.  No jumping, no unexplained ripples on the surface of the pool… other than an ancient faded empty Vienna Sausage tin, I have not even seen any signs that anyone else has maybe ever stood here trying to catch fish. 

9:55 AM:  I am itchy where a black fly dug a hole in my finger, right on a knuckle.  The swelling is making it difficult to bend the finger.  I curse at the cloud of black flies surrounding my head even though I know this particular bite is from a couple days ago.

9:57 AM: I decide that probably the trout are already out of the streams and back in the ponds.  I know this decision, though it feels full of authority, is based on nothing but unjustified conviction.  I have no idea what I’m doing.

Or maybe the leafing out of the alder means the trout -- clearly
not in this stream -- are already in the ponds?  Maybe?
10:00 AM: As I am packing up my gear, I stick my apple into my pocket so it is handy for the walk.  I decide to head to the far side of the beaked hazel grove.  If I remember correctly, there’s a pond there that looks like a spot where people go to fish.  I recognize the only reason I think people fish there is that the trail leading to it is an ATV track.

10:05 AM: I dig the chocolate out of my pack and eat it.

10:20 AM: As I’m walking I see that the ferns in this area are still young enough to pick as fiddleheads.  We don’t have fiddleheads proper here in Newfoundland but Peter Scott assures us that these other not-quite-fiddlehead ferns are edible.  I know from experience, however, that by edible he does not mean palatable.  I keep walking.  I suddenly hear a racket… no, a volley of noise.  Tattatatatatatatatat tattattattat.  Like gun shots, but not quite… maybe a nail gun? Or a toy gun?  It’s relentless and getting louder.  I find myself surrounded by yellow warblers, darting around madly with no apparent purpose. 

(Let’s be honest. These might well not have been actual yellow warblers… they could have been any one of the “Confusing Yellow Warblers” in the Peterson guide.  Or maybe even some other sort of small yellow woodsy bird.  Not even a woodsy bird necessarily, it’s more like scrub land.  The only thing I am certain of is that these were not american goldfinch.)

10:25 AM:  Standing where I expect to find the trail that winds itself down to the pond, I am surprised to find a construction trailer.  And a leveled-out bit of land.  When did that happen?  I worry about the beaked hazel but I can’t tell for sure if it’s in or out of the construction footprint. Not really keen on the idea of meandering blindly toward an unseen pond, hoping to cross the trail somewhere past the development, I decide the trout are probably still in the river.  I mean, it’s been a slow spring, and still pretty cold out.

There used to be a trail here, one that wound it's way down the hill toward
a lovely pond.  Probably brimming with trout.

10:35 AM: Working my way back to the car, I stop and flick my line out into a few more river pools.  Nothing.  Well, I snag a couple of rocks and thus have a couple of milliseconds of mild excitement, but no fish.

10:50 AM:  I have not needed my gloves.  I suppose I have not needed my rod either, but there’s no way of knowing without it.