Rhubarb is one of the first signs of spring here in Maine - the rhubarb plant in my boyfriend's yard is huge already. Because we use the big vegetative stalks of the plant, rather than the fruit, it's ready to go when all the other plants have just gotten around to setting their first real leaves.
|Rhubarb stalks from Rosemont Market, not yet local
But it's so often paired with strawberries, which in Maine aren't ready until the end of June. There's probably only a week in which the two might overlap locally. And rhubarb usually acts as fibrous filler, with loads of sugar and sweet berries dumped in to cover up its tart flavor.
But rhubarb is starting to get the respect it deserves - just today on twitter, the Kitchn recommended a Rhubarb Crumble Pie, with no strawberries in sight.
I am teaching canning classes now, with this Curried Rhubarb Orange Chutney as the featured recipe. So I tested the recipe yesterday at work, and was stunned to find that despite thinking I didn't love yellow curry and previously finding most chutneys good, but at a loss for how to actually incorporate them into my cooking, that I love this rhubarb chutney.
Chutney is a mix of fruit, raisins, onions, garlic, and spices - in this case fresh ginger, ground allspice, pickling spice, and yellow curry powder.
The recipe also includes a fair amount of cider vinegar and a double-take amount of 5 cups of brown sugar. But I assure you, the final product is very well balanced, and so you shouldn't reduce the sugar.
The ingredients are chopped, combined, and heated for an hour or so, until the mixture is reduced and thickened. Stir frequently, as it will scorch if you don't. I wore an oven mit while stirring! You could also employ a bacon splatter screen to protect your stovetop and shoes (and hair in my case).
You can refrigerate the final mixture, although it makes 8 cups, so you'll want to freeze or can it unless you plan on serving an Indian feast soon.
The spices were tied up in a spice bag, which became dyed and a bit batiked from the yellow curry.
Curried Rhubarb Orange Chutney
Adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp pickling spice
4 tbsp orange zest
2/3 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
6 cups chopped rhubarb
5 cups lightly packed brown sugar
3 1/2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
3 cups coarsely chopped onions
1 1/2 cups raisins
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 tbsp chopped gingerroot
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp ground allspice
If canning: wash and rinse eight 8oz. canning jars; keep warm until ready to use. Wash screw bands and lids; simmer lids in a small saucepot of water.
Tie peppercorns, mustard seeds, and pickling spice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag. Set aside.
Combine orange zest and juice, rhubarb, brown sugar, vinegar, onions, raisins, garlic and ginger in a large saucepot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.
Add curry powder, allspice, and reserved spice bag; stir well. Boil gently, until thickened to a desired consistency (i.e. not runny) about 30 more minutes. Discard spice bag.
To freeze: Store in freezer grade containers and freeze. Use within 8 months for best quality.
To can: Pour hot chutney into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.
Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a clean, damp paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids until fingertip tight.
Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Let cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours and check for seals.
Yield: About eight 8-oz. jars