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.   


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