From: Rupa B.
To: Robert Pincus
Subject: Dude, can I borrow your kitchen?
So my husband missed rhubarb season completely while he was traveling last year, and this spring we can’t cook because our kitchen is being renovated. He loves, loves, loves rhubarb and it seems cruel to make him live without it two years in a row. Can I come over to your house this weekend and put some up in jars? Thanks. –RB
We said yes, of course, hoping that some of the spare preserves would find their way into our pantry.
Rhubarb never comes cheap, and Rupa must have brought over 30 bucks worth last Saturday afternoon. She rough-chopped about half of it and tossed into a wide pan with some sugar to melt into a sour, sharp mass that she spooned into pint jars and dropped into boiling water for fifteen minutes. “Come mid-winter we’ll spoon some of that over ice cream and be extra-happy” was her logic, and I think she’s onto something.
But what really blew my mind was the rhubarb mustard. “I got into making fruit mustards a couple years ago when my poor spatial sense left with me with 15 pounds of extra peaches. You make them once and you don’t go back.” Now I know why. This is the condiment of the gods, sour-fruity rhubarb both softening and calling attention to the vinegar acidity and the irritating-in-a-nice-way isothiocyanates that give mustard its bite. It’s positively Presidential. Start by using it with a pork roast, on a charcuterie plate, or on ham sandwiches and you’ll be off to the races.
Rupa’s Rhubarb Mustard
3/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/2 cup brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
3 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
Just under 1 3/4 cup vinegar (cider vinegar, mostly likely)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grind the mustard and fenugreek seeds into a fine powder, leaving some portion of the yellow mustard seeds whole. Put everything in a wide pot and cook over medium heat until the rhubarb is helplessly soft. Add a splash of sweet wine at the end if you want to; run it though the coarse disc of a food mill if you like things smooth rather than chunky. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath if you want to keep it on the shelf.
Note: Cooking mustard tends to mellow it, so in Rupa’s recipe the rhubarb sourness is about an even match for the mustard heat. You might want something with more kick to it, in which case you can stew the rhubarb first and then simmer it with the vinegar and mustard for just a few minutes. I even found a grape mustard recipe in a cookbook by Maggie Beer that calls for no cooking at all.
Note: I was casual about the direction for putting this by in jars but you shouldn’t be casual if you decide to do so. Rodale puts out a great book about preserving food, including a good section on canning; the key is to keep everything as clean as possible.