The second way we explored preserving rhubarb at this week’s Food Preservation Drop In was to can some rhubarb chutney.
In the past I’ve canned rhubarb butter, which is basically just stewed and sweetened rhubarb that we use on cereal. This year I wanted to try something new, so I adapted a rhubarb chutney recipe from the wonderful book The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest. The downside of the recipe is that not all of the ingredients are seasonal or available locally, but I figured I would give it a shot. If I like it, next I’ll try adapting it to use all local ingredients.
Rhubarb is a high-acid fruit, which means it’s safe to can it using a boiling water bath canner (as opposed to low acid foods, which must be canned using a pressure canner…for safety, always understand the acidity of each of the ingredients you wish to can and follow recipe directions). In the case of this chutney recipe, a lot of vinegar is also used, which adds to the acidity.
2 1/2 pounds rhubarb, washed and cut (it’s a pet peeve of mine when recipes mix and match volume and weight in their instructions. Not having a food scale handy, I had to guesstimate my quantity of rhubarb)
5 1/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar (I used honey instead, to taste, which ended up being about 2 cups)
4 cups cider vinegar
2 cups golden raisins (I swapped out the raisins for dried cranberries)
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
12 whole allspice berries
12 whole black peppercorns
- Grate zest from oranges
- Peel orange, remove pulp and membranes, and chop coarsely
- Combine rhubarb, oranges, sugar, vinegar, raisins and onions in a saucepan
- Tie the spices in a cheesecloth bag and add to pan. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring regularly.
- Simmer uncovered until thick, about 1-1 1/2 hours, being careful not to burn it (which I managed to do). Remove the spice bag (my bag managed to fall apart, and I ended up having to scoop out the spices as best I could).
- Ladle into hot, sterilized 1/2-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Cap and seal.
- Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner (adjusting time for your altitude…12 minutes in Regina).
In general, canning is less energy intensive than freezing, but it still uses a lot of energy and water. An advantage of canning over freezing is that once it’s preserved, you can store it without cost and without the fear of losing your food in a power outage. You can also reuse jars and screw rings from year to year, though you must always use new lids, which is an ongoing expense.
To can foods safely, it’s important to understand the science of it, which has evolved over time. The way your grandparents canned foods is not as safe as today’s best practices, so make sure you’re using instructions and recipes from an up-to-date, reputable source. Canning isn’t hard once you’ve got the know-how and had some practice. But if you do it wrong, it can be lethal, so don’t take chances!