My Mennonite Grandma Mary would have loved rhubarb chutney. But alas, I doubt she ever tasted true chutney, even though her cellar walls were lined yearly with row upon row of pickled and candied veggies and fruits. She preserved everything she could get her hands on. Her large yard boasted mature peach, pear, plum, sweet cherry, pie cherry, and crab apple trees, which we of course climbed and pilfered.
In the summer, her kitchen smelled persistently of vinegar. To some pickling brews, she added sugar and spices, creating candied crab apples or sweet and sour bing cherries in the process. No dinner table was considered properly set without several bowls of her glistening treasure arranged significantly in the center.
It would have been an easy leap for her from sweet and sour pickled fruit to sweet and sour chutney: no canning, smaller quantity, chopped instead of whole fruit, wider spicing options, and auxiliary ingredients, such as raisins.
I have no doubt at all that she would have loved this particular chutney, especially since her garden along the white-washed picket fence was thick with rhubarb and the only ways she knew to use it were in lattice topped pie (with superb lard crust), homey tea bread, and spicy rhubarb sauce. I wonder now, many years too late, why I didn’t think to share it with her.
When I first started making Indian chutneys (inspired by Madhur Jaffrey), I wondered about the similarities between German and Indian culinary traditions. After all, it is a short distance from rhubarb sauce to rhubarb chutney. I realized immediately that this particular tradition was not foreign to me at all. Thanks to Grandma Mary, I grew up with similar marvelous condiments.
The acidity of pickled veggies and sweet and sour fruit is the best palate cleanser and appetite booster I know. There is no better appetizer in the world than a freshly made fruit chutney served with a beautiful cheese (or savory cheesecake) and a basket of artisan crackers or crisps.
Spiced Rhubarb Chutney
This russet-red chutney is sweet, tart, spicy, and addictively delicious. I especially love it with Seeded Bread Crisps topped with a creamy brie or fresh chevre, or as an accompaniment to a savory cheesecake.
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks, broken with a mallet
2 teaspoons cardamom pods, broken with a mallet
2 teaspoons coarsely crushed black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 teaspoon anise seeds
zest of 1 large orange
3 cups (14 ounces), trimmed, sliced rhubarb
½ cup plump raisins
½ teaspoon vanilla
- In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar and sugar, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, anise seeds, and orange zest. Cover the pan tightly and macerate for at least 1 hour.
- Strain the liquid through a triple-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan. Discard the spent spices.
- Reheat the liquid and add the rhubarb and raisins. Bring to a slow simmer.
- Simmer slowly, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and the liquid reduces by half, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.
- Let cool, put into a storage container, cover, and refrigerate until cold.
Makes about 2 cups.
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Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.