Friday May 21st 2010, 8:32 pm

rhubarb for sale in the forest of dean by the roadside

Month five Tigress’s can jam canning challenge and for May there are two ingredients to choose from; asparagus and rhubarb. Asparagus is still quite hard to come by locally. I found some in the Co-op but as it has come all the way from Peru I decided to give it a miss. I have a hard and fast rule to only buy English asparagus, which therefore means I only buy it during the 6-8 weeks that it is in season. I did buy an organic bundle in the deli here at Taurus Crafts, where my shop is situated, but it was quite expensive, so there was no way I would be prepared to mess about with such a prized ingredient other than to devour it chargrilled for my supper. So that leaves rhubarb, a crop I have already been working with for the last two and a half months but that is such a favourite of mine that I have yet to tire of it.
As luck will have it, whilst driving through the Forest of Dean I happened upon someone selling rhubarb at a very reasonable price from his smallholding. This place is a real find and I know that I will go back there often from now on, as he grows a great selection of soft fruits which will be really useful for preserving as the summer unfolds. I stupidly didn’t ask the man’s name, but will be sure too on my next visit. When I parked up and knocked on his door, my rhubarb was yet to be picked, so I knew it was as fresh as could be when the generous bundle was handed to me for a snip. Rhubarb is a strange crop. It grows really easily and can be seen in abundance in local allotments and gardens, but it is hard to find for sale and supermarkets rarely sell it. Tesco stock it most of the time but don’t always source British never mind locally. I saw it for sale earlier in the year shipped from New Zealand, which seems extraordinary when there are varieties in the UK which can grow almost all year round. So as I drove back home, with my canjam ingredient on the seat beside me, what was left to decide was what to make next.

harvesting rhubarb at forest of dean smallholding

I have already made a rhubarb marmalade, a rhubarb jam and a rhubarb cordial this year, so in the quest for something different I have decided to opt this time for a ketchup. Chutneys, sauces, relishes and ketchups are all kind of similar, except that they vary in texture and consistency. I fancied a ketchup that was smooth, with no recognisable pieces or chunks. I thought that if I kept the ingredients pale; white sugar, golden sultanas etc, I might just get away with a pinkish looking result. It wasn’t to be, as it cooked down it did take on a pinkish hue but of a beige variety. At that point I had to decide whether to stick with boring unattractive beige or whether to make the colour deeper and richer. I opted for the latter and added some balsamic vinegar. This has only a slight impact on the eventual taste of the ketchup so may seem a rather superficial consideration, but for me the downside of my ketchup is that what I have ended up with is brown. Brown, brown, brown. One of the most wonderful qualities rhubarb posesses is its colour. What a blunder, I should have made a beautiful clear rhubarb jelly instead to add to my already groaning rhubarb preserve mountain. However, now I’ve come to terms with the lack lustre appearance, the taste is making up for it. A sort of wolf in sheeps clothing scenario. I’m beginning to fantasise about dolloping ketchup on bubble and squeak, as a relish on a Double Gloucester sandwich or even with yoghurt and extra virgin rapeseed oil to dress some homegrown salad leaves. It may be brown but it is a winner all the same.

rhubarb for sale in a forest of dean smallholding

A while back I had an email from someone in the US who had bought my book. She said she was going to return the book to the shop the following day, accusing me of being ‘cavalier with ginger’. Amongst my friends, since then, this phrase has often been repeated and never fails to give us a laugh. My rhubarb ketchup is unashamedly cavalier with ginger, as rhubarb and ginger make such fine bed fellows. Obviously, if you aren’t a ginger fan, then tone it down to suit your taste. As usual when making chutneys, relishes and ketchups, that all contain vinegar, they do need a maturing phase to mellow the sharpness. This ketchup is surprisingly tasty straight away as I added some honey at the end which just takes the top edge off any harshness, but if you leave it for 3-6 weeks before opening you will find it well worth the wait. The result is fruity, spicy and I’m convinced it will be very versatile. I am not sure whether a strong enough ‘rhubarb’ vibe comes through yet, more of a lovely but general ‘fruity’ one, but I’ll see what it is like in a month or two and report back then. It is certainly worth making if you have rhubarb to spare that you hate to waste.

rhubarb ketchup canned and ready for the pantry


Makes approx 1.6Kg (3 1/2 lbs)

1Kg (2lbs) chopped rhubarb
300g (10oz) onion (approx 3 med onions), chopped
325g (12oz) white sugar
1 Tbsp sea salt
600ml (1 pt) white wine vinegar
80ml (1/2 cup) balsamic vinegar
300g (10oz) raisins or sultanas
4 garlic cloves (approx 10g) peeled
4 knobs of ginger (approx 30g) peeled
2 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp allspice, ground
1tsp ground coriander
2 small dried chillis, crumbled
1/4 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp cloves, ground
1 Tbsp honey

Place the rhubarb, onions sugar and sea salt in a non reactive preserving pan. Place the garlic, ginger, raisins (or sultanas) and vinegar in a food processor and pulse it to roughly chop everything together and break up the dried fruit. Add to the preserving pan along with the ground spices. Place the whole spices in a pestle and mortar and crush them roughly, then tip them into a piece of butter muslin, tie up in a parcel with string to secure and add to the pan.

rhubarb ketchup ready for serving

Bring to a simmer and cook until the fruit is soft, the onions are transparent and the consistency is beginning to thicken. Remove the spice bundle and push the contents of the pan through a sieve or use a food mill with a fine mesh, collecting the resulting smooth mixture. (This part of the job took rather longer than I’d have liked. Next time I will probably wizz the mixture in a blender or food processor first so it passes through the sieve faster.) Return to the pan.
Prepare the water bath, jars and seals ready for canning. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here. Add the honey to the mixture and stir. Bring the contents of the pan to a simmer and cook further if necessary until the ketchup is of a suitable consistency, like tomato ketchup. Pour into the jars leaving required headroom, seal and hot water process for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the water bath and leave them till completely cold before testing the seals. Label and store. Leave the ketchup for at least 3 weeks before using. Without water processing the ketchup will still keep for several months unopened.

rhubarb ketchup canned and ready for the pantry

I like the idea of being Cavalier with ginger. The perfect combination with Rhubarb.

Comment by Lynn 05.21.10 @ 8:43 pm

Sounds delicious to me! Will try it when my new rhubarb plant gets going next year! Saw English rhubarb in the supermarket for £3 for 3 sticks yesterday!!! I have a lovely jam recipe which uses red rose petals with the rhubarb and adds a certain light perfumed flavour to the rhubarb for a change from ginger perhaps? Interested to see you live in the Forst of Dean – my mother’s family are from there and I lived there for some years when a child too.


Comment by Jane 05.21.10 @ 10:10 pm

I’m in the U.S. and I have your book too. You just go right ahead and be as cavalier with ginger as you like (because I like it too!)! I’m in the process of your Rhubarb Lime Jam as we speak!

Comment by Rebecca 05.21.10 @ 10:34 pm

Brown is a lovely color all the same, but I do understand wanting the beautiful pink of rhubarb. If I get one more harvest from my rhubarb plants, I know what I’m going to make.
Cavalier is a great word, by the way, especially when applied to ginger, as earlier comments indicate.

Comment by Julia 05.22.10 @ 2:00 am

And your book looks amazing! I didn’t know. It’s now on my list.

Comment by Julia 05.22.10 @ 2:01 am

Had to laugh about the cavalier ginger! Actually, I didn’t even notice that in your book… I’m surprised it’s hard to find rhubarb in British supermarkets – here in Germany, you can get big loads of it right now everywhere!

Comment by ap269 05.22.10 @ 11:28 am

What beautiful fresh rhubarb! There’s nothing wrong with brown – it still looks really yummy! I made rhubarb salsa and a savory rhubarb soup. They were the first things I’ve ever made with rhubarb – I think I’ll have to try your recipe next!

Comment by Catalina 05.23.10 @ 1:27 am

Oh Gloria! The Rhubarb Lime jam is glorious! I’m saving a half pint of it for our local county fair competition this fall. Thank you!

Comment by Rebecca 05.23.10 @ 5:00 pm

As always, your can jam is incredible. I love ginger just as the previous commenters… people are so funny! “Cavalier” I loved that your reclaimed it in the ketchup name!

Comment by meg 05.27.10 @ 7:39 am

[…] Laundry Etc. keeps coming up with great recipes, this time for Cavalier Ginger & Rhubarb Ketchup.  I love the title (read her post to find out the back story). Bonus- she is English and I love her writing  & words AND I just realized she had a cookbook. Sweet! […]

Pingback by My Own CanJam “Asparubarb” Round-up | Grow & Resist 05.27.10 @ 8:25 am

I’m not familiar with rhubarb ketchup. I’d love to give this a go next season. It seems quite a find to locate a place to purchase rhubarb that is picked right there on the spot for you. I’d love to get that lucky. I was cavalier with ginger yesterday evening and I enjoyed it.

Comment by Denise | Chez Danisse 07.01.10 @ 3:46 am

Thought I’d post an update to my rhubarb ketchup story as my initial disappointment at the colour of this ketchup may have clouded my critical faculties and in turn I may have passed this on to my readers! This ketchup has become one of my favourite relishes and I will most certainly be making it again next year. I still have a few jars in the pantry, which I hope will see me through until the next big rhubarb harvest. I love to make a vegetarian hot dog and give it a good dollop of my rhubarb ketchup. So do give this a try. In fact now I think what a fine fruity BROWN sauce this is.

Comment by laundryetc 08.29.10 @ 10:44 am

Last summer I made Victoria Sauce which has the similar brown color but not quite so many ingredients. Mine turned out to be a perfect bbq sauce for grilled chicken. Who knew you could make rhubarb taste so interesting? Saeriu

Comment by Saeriu 10.18.10 @ 3:48 pm

[…] circle and there is a feeling of beginning again, its time to take store and note the successes – the rhubarb ketchup, black grape chilli jam and lemon fig & lavender marmalade I want to always keep a stock of. […]

Pingback by laundry etc 01.18.11 @ 6:25 pm

[…] Gloria’s recipe for Rhubarb Ketchup here. […]

Pingback by Heritage Wholemeal Buns & Gloria’s Rhubarb Ketchup 03.19.12 @ 8:57 pm

Unfortunately the local sheep broke through our defences and ate all my rhubarb just as it was emerging earlier this year – for the second year running! But I’m saving this recipe in case I ever manage to keep the wooly blighters at bay long enough. Then I’ll enjoy eating it – with roast lamb!

Comment by Eilidh 06.11.12 @ 10:57 am

[…] friend Gloria makes this amazing rhubarb ketchup. She gave me a jar a while back – it didn’t last long, because it’s basically […]

Pingback by Ancho Rhubarb Ketchup | smarterfitter 06.16.13 @ 2:58 pm

I am in New Zealand and there are only 2 varieties here, Victoria and Glaskin’s Perpetual. You have so many varieties in the UK and imports from New Zealand must be in your off season. Support your own country if you can.

Comment by Susan Gibson 07.16.13 @ 10:57 am