Spring is finally on our doorstep here in Brunswick. Our forsythia and quince bushes are at their peak, the garden is full of ground phlox and forget-me-not, and the phoebes are making a racket as they set up shop in the girls’ old playhouse. And that sea of green and red you see here? That’s our rhubarb patch! It’s a killer. A friend gave us four transplants from her patch back in 1980, and life has never been the same. Spring at our house means rhubarb.
“What do you do with all of it?” someone asked a few days ago. Plenty, I told her. I make rhubarb compote and rhubarb crisp, and two kinds of pies: the traditional kind, and a custard pie that has a meringue topping. I make rhubarb streusel muffins, rhubarb cake, rhubarb fool, rhubarb jam, and of course strawberry-rhubarb jam. Like her mama when she was little, Sally even likes to eat it raw. We aren’t lacking for ideas about how to eat rhubarb around here.
I found the newest idea just a few years ago: rhubarb chutney. It’s in Brooke Dojny’s excellent book Dishing Up Maine. It’s a great accompaniment to a roast chicken or ham, but what I especially like it with is Indian food. My husband is the Indian cook at our house, and he’s set himself the life task of working his way through this: 660 Indian Curries. He only has about 600 left to go—which means we need a steady supply of chutney.
The recipe below makes about 2 cups. It will keep in the fridge for 1–2 weeks, and it freezes beautifully. I like to freeze it in 4-ounce Mason jars, which for two people makes the perfect accompaniment for one Indian dinner.
Because rhubarb is so acidic, be sure to cook this in a nonreactive pan (which means no aluminum or copper). I use a large stainless steel or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.
1 small onion, diced
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup water
1/3 cup white or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 whole cloves
1 small dried red hot chile, crumbled into tiny bits, or ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a wide, deep, nonreactive skillet and turn the heat to high. Bring the ingredients to a boil, stirring frequently to avoid scorching.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until you have a syrupy sauce that is close to the consistency you want. This will probably take about 30 minutes. Remember that the chutney will be a little firmer once it cools. Keep an eye on your skillet, and stir regularly.
Remove the cloves, and let the chutney cool to room temperature.