Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.
In this edition of Small Batch, Marisa McClellan of Food In Jars teaches us a thing or two about rhubarb chutney. Marisa is the author of the forthcoming book Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year Round.
During my middle school years, my family moved to a neighborhood that was tucked on the far slope of Portland, Oregon’s west hills. It was the most suburban home my parents had ever chosen and I struggled with the transition, as I was used to sidewalks and walkable corner stores that sold milk, bread and candy.
The primary joy of that house was the yard. It spanned half an acre and featured lilac bushes, fruit trees and a seasonal stream along the very edge. Thirty years earlier, the property had been owned by a botanist and all the more exotic plants and trees were leftover from her days.
Of all the things that the botanist left behind, my favorite was her rhubarb patch. Tucked along the fence and half hidden by leaves and flowering shrubs, those crowns reliably sent up long pink and green stalks every spring when the weather began to warm.
My mother would try to keep up with the annual onslaught, making pies, jams and quick breads until we couldn’t face any more rhubarb. My dad would fill grocery bags and take them to work, in the hopes that his co-workers might adopt a few stems.
I wasn’t sad when we left that house for a more urban neighborhood, because it meant a great deal more freedom for my then 15-year-old self. But I did miss the rhubarb.
It makes sense then, that one of the first ingredients I chose to work with as I started canning on my own was rhubarb. As an adult, I’ve made it into jams, butters, compotes, jellies and syrups. One of my very favorite rhubarb preserves is a chutney adapted from a recipe I found in the 1972 edition of the New York Times Heritage Cookbook.
I took the book’s version, slashed the volumes to manageable amounts and tweaked the spices until they matched my chutney vision. Because I like my handmade pantry to feature a broad array of options (as opposed to eight or ten jars of the same thing), I’ve designed this recipe so that the finished product fills just three half pint jars. In my household, that means there’s one jar to share and two to keep and eat. It’s good math for an apartment that’s just 1,100 square feet.
If the idea of homemade condiments has you a little intimidated, chutney makes for a very good starting place. It doesn’t have any of the complexity of homemade jams or jellies. Instead, once your fruits and vegetables are chopped, you simply toss them in a wide, non-reactive pan (that’s anything that’s not made from bare cast iron or aluminum) and cook.
This small batch took about 45 minutes over medium heat to cook down into a thick, slightly sticky, spreadable condiment. I like it added to a toasted cheese sandwich or tossed with brown rice and sautéed greens. Paired with a log of goat cheese and a packet of good crackers, it’s my go-to contribution to casual parties and potlucks.
Makes 3 half pints
4 cups sliced rhubarb (about 1 pound)
1 cup minced onion (about 1 small onion)
3/4 cups raisins
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
Combine all ingredients in a wide, non-reactive pot (give yourself at least 4 quarts of space to work with). Place pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Once it bubbles, reduce heat to medium and simmer gently, stirring regularly, until slightly thickened.
As the chutney gets closer to done, make sure to stir every minute or so to prevent scorching. You’ll know the chutney is finished cooking when you can pull your spoon through the chutney and the space you’ve created doesn’t fill in immediately.
Another way to determine whether the chutney is done is a method popular in vintage canning books. You scoop a small spoonful out of the pot and watch how it behaves once in the bowl of the spoon. If it runs to the edges, it’s not there yet. However, if it sits in a high mound, it is done.
If you plan on eating your three half pints in short order, you’re welcome to skip the processing part and simply keep the chutney in the fridge. However, if your refrigerator space is as limited as mine is, here’s now to make those jars pantry ready.
To process the jars for shelf stability:
Fill a small stockpot with water and place a small rack in the bottom of the pot. If you don’t have an appropriately sized rack, use a folded kitchen towel.
Sink three half pint jars into filled stockpot and bring it to a simmer.
Fill a small saucepan halfway with hot water and put the jar lids in it. Place it over the lowest flame your stove can produce.
When the chutney is finished cooking, remove the jars from stockpot and place them on a folded kitchen towel. Fill the jars with the chutney, leave 1/2 inch of headspace.
Wipe the rims of the jars to remove any errant chutney. Apply the hot lids and screw on the bands until they just hold (not too tight!).
Place filled jars into the stockpot of hot water and bring to a boil. Once the pot is bubbling vigorously, reduce the heat a little so that it maintains a gentle boil and set a timer for ten minutes.
When time is up, remove jars from the canner and set them to cool on a folded kitchen towel. Once the jars are cool to the touch, remove rings and test seals. You should be able to grasp the outer edge of the lid and lift the entire jar while the lid holds fast.
Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated. Sealed jars can be kept in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
When it’s time to eat your chutney, make sure to open a sealed jar at least half an hour before you want to eat. I’ve found that chutneys need a little time to air out, otherwise all you taste is vinegar.