Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rhubarb and Chutney

I had a very nice day in the kitchen yesterday. It started with rhubarb which, fortunately, Joe loves as much as I do. Unfortunately, it's difficult to impossible to grow in southern Arizona. I know. We've tried. But every spring it appears in the market, and brings back memories of my grandparents' rhubarb that grew more or less untended out beside their garage.
When I was a kid my friends and I actually pulled up stalks and ate them raw - and we liked them, sour and puckery as they are (my friend Angie and I also went through a phase of eating mustard on our toast - go figure). We only ate the stalks; the leaves are poisonous. And we incorporated the plants around us into our play, too. I remember that one day a few of us put my biggest doll in my wagon, surrounded her with Grandma's flowers (Grandma wasn't real happy about that), and paraded slowly and solemnly down the road in a funeral procession, waving rhubarb leaves over her like the big fans wielded by slaves in an old black and white movie about ancient Egypt. (We did stop short of burying my doll.)
     I found some tasty-looking rhubarb recipes at the Land 'o Lakes website: Just search "rhubarb." My other Grandma made an amazing Rhubarb Crunch; the recipe involves a Jiffy cake mix and strawberry Jell-o, and since Jiffy mixes can be hard to find these days, I'm going to try to come up with my own version and will post it when I'm successful (notice I say "when," not "if"). But I had another, more pressing kitchen project yesterday, so I chopped up and froze most of the rhubarb in zip-lock bags.
I did make some simple rhubarb sauce with: 
     2 cups chopped rhubarb, 
     1/3 cup sugar, and 
     1/4 cup water. 
Just put it all in a saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let it simmer about 5 minutes or until the rhubarb gets nice and mushy. Don't worry that you won't have enough water; the rhubarb releases a lot of liquid. 
     The resulting sauce, delicious over a custard pudding or in yogurt or just by itself, is a lovely pink (the redder the rhubarb, the prettier the color) and a nice blend of sweet and tart. Add more sugar if  you think it needs it, but start with just the 1/3 cup - if you get too much, you can't take it out.
     The bigger project, one I'd been looking forward to for some time, was making tomato chutney. Most of the recipes I'd seen were for green tomato chutney, and they really meant green! Supermarket tomatoes were fine for this as they are rarely perfectly ripe and more often quite unripe. I found these Romas at a nearby market, many more green than they look in this picture, and at a ridiculously low price - so I bought 5 pounds. 
The recipe I decided to use comes from Nigel Slater, who writes for The Guardian. It's at He uses a mix of green and ripe tomatoes, but since mine were neither one nor the other, I just threw them all in together and figured the end result would be about the same. I also multiplied the recipe by 2.5, since Nigel's is based on using just 2 pounds of tomatoes. But I was laying in a supply for the winter (even though it's only May - we love curry and go through quite a bit of chutney, not just with curry but in other applications, like cheese sandwiches - chutney on Cheddar? Divine!). 
     The Guardian is a British paper, so some of the amounts in Nigel's recipe are metric, but you can find a handy conversion calculator at You might want to bookmark this calculator; it's easier to use than any I've seen. Here are the ingredients and amounts I used, multiplied and adapted from Nigel's:

Tomato Chutney
5 pounds unripe but not terribly green tomatoes
2 pounds onions, chopped
9 ounces raisins
1 pound 5 ounces muscovado or dark brown sugar
3 medium sized hot red chiles (I used a scant 2 T. dried red chile flakes)
1 T. kosher salt (don't use iodized salt when pickling or canning)
5 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
3 1/8 c. cider vinegar

Nigel says to just halve the tomatoes and rough chop the onions but I prefer both chopped a little finer - not fine, just not quite such big chunks. If you're using truly green tomatoes, do as Nigel did and put them in a big (very big, if you're making as much as I did) pot with all the other ingredients except the red tomatoes and bring to a boil, then simmer 1 hour, add red tomatoes and simmer another 25 minutes. 
     I just threw everything in together, as you see here,
 and let it simmer about an hour and 20 minutes. Here's how it looked after about 30 minutes.
 Stir fairly often so it doesn't stick (a nonstick pan helps with that). Then ladle it into sterilized canning jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Aren't the little pink-checked lids cute?
I got 8 jars; most of them were 12-ounce jam jars but there were a couple of pints. The canning kettle only holds 7 jars so one got designated for immediate consumption. Joe didn't mind that at all. He'd probably eat almost anything if it had chutney on it, and I might too.  
     If you've never canned anything, it's far less intimidating than many people think. There's a pretty good video on YouTube (probably more than one, actually) at and instructions/tutorials at a number of websites, including Of course there are also any number of excellent cookbooks that focus on food preservation.
     Go ahead! Make some chutney or rhubarb sauce (you can also can rhubarb sauce) or something else that, when you open it up in the dead of winter, will remind you of spring! I'm pretty sure you'll be happy you did.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post and went over it twice. I think, perhaps , you brought so many threads od interest together, including the attractive images, stories, receipts, and a sense of place and motivation. I am by no means a homemaker, but there is something here that pulls me in beyond mere escapism. Thanks!