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Peter Johnson & Jan Young

Mama's Little Rhubarb

by Peter Johnson & Jan Young, on Mon, 04 Oct 2010 | 1 comment

Rhubarb Relish - Pickles and Preserves - pg. 318, Josephine Eisenhauer (Mrs. D. A.)

Wow - our first official Dutch Oven Cookbook recipe blog! What better way than to start with the recipe that started it all - Rhubarb Relish!

Thumbnail image for mags.JPGWe've been hitting Magnolia's Grill for years. Magnolia's Grill is a small café located in old town Lunenburg. The tiny café is littered with kitschy salt and pepper shakers and the walls are decorated with pictures of celeb friends that have dined at the café over the years - Candice Bergen, Kathy Bates (café owner Nancy Lohnes played her body double in Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne - in which Peter also played a doorman!), and of course the restaurant's most regular celeb visitor - Tom Selleck!

fishcakes.JPGMagnolia's serves the undisputed, handsdown, best fish cakes evah! Some would argue that "real" fishcakes are made with salt cod, but Mags' (as the locals affectionally call it) are made with haddock, and we don't mind telling you that these fish cakes own! Fresh flaky haddock is combined with mashed spuds, onions and who knows what else, then pan fried to a golden brown! Brown food is good food as Chef Anne Burrell would say, Food Network's - Secret's of a Restaurant Chef. It doesn't end there of course, Mag's has a secret weapon - Rhubarb Relish! If you're not from Nova Scotia's South Shore, you're probably thinking - Rhubarb? - Relish? - Wha? Oh yeah, you read it correctly - fishcakes aren't fishcakes without Rhubarb Relish. Its sweet and tangy flavor is the perfect compliment to any type of white fish based dish. If you plan on hitting the café, try to avoid peak dinner hours - lineups are often out the door. Oh...and the fresh squeezed lemonade is killer!

After years of eating fishcakes and rhubarb relish at Magnolia's Grill, the time had come to attempt to duplicate this delicious delight. After researching recipes a bit, we felt that the Dutch Oven recipe seemed to be a good bet. Thankfully Peter's Mama's rhubarb patch was prime for the picking, and given her experience with preserve making - she graciously offered to mentor us through our first preserve endeavor. Thus the title of this blog "Mama's little rhubarb" - not sure if "little rhubarb" refers to Peter or the rhubarb patch.

What we had feared would be a fairly daunting task - chopping, boiling, bottling - turned out to be fairly simple. It contains few ingredients - rhubarb, onions (these should be sliced by the way, the recipe doesn't specify), cider vinegar, sugar (careful - it looks like 1 cup in the recipe, but it is really a 7 - Peter's brother found this out the hard way), a few spices - and that's it. The most daunting part of this recipe would be chopping the two quarts each of rhubarb and onions, however thanks to modern technology - a food processor makes the perfect sous chef.

If you've got a big pot, a food processor and some jars - you can do this! You'll notice in some of the pictures that we used a unique pot in our preparation - this pot is known as a maslin pan - traditionally used in the UK for making preserves. Its designed with a wide mouth that narrows towards the base, fitting perfectly on the stove burner. The maslin pan has a heavy stainless steel bottom as well as a swinging handle (like a bucket) to easily lift and pour the preserves into jars. Jan acquired the pan a few years back with grand pickling and preserving plans :) Although any old pot with a solid bottom will do the trick, if you are hard core into pickling and preserves, you may want to consider adding one of these pots to your collection. You can purchase them at Lee Valley Hardware.

We did have a few challenges and questions with the recipe - so here they are. The recipe called to scald your onions - we weren't certain how to go about this but Peter's Mom suggested boiling some water and pouring it over the sliced onions, we imagine you could also just put the onions in water and bring it to a boil. After scalding the onions for a few minutes, discard the water. The purpose we assume is to remove some of the potent onion flavor. Speaking of onions - this recipe has a lot - two quarts worth. We recommend you definitely use a food processor and a pair of Paula Deen style onion goggles couldn't hurt. The recipe instructions say to cook all the ingredients thoroughly until thick - WHA?? The lack of instruction here left us in a bit of a pickle (no pun intended). I'm certain Mrs. Eisenhauer (the recipe's author) knows exactly how long to cook this - we did try to reach Mrs. Eisenhauer, unfortunately she wasn't at home. It's a fine line - rhubarb relish shouldn't be thick like jam, so we didn't want to overcook it. Also, once the relish cools it tends to thicken more. We ended up letting the relish simmer for about an hour until we were happy with its consistency. The recipe yields about eight 500 ml jars (the recipe doesn't specify this).

As far as bottling goes - we washed and sterilized the bottles and lids by placing them on cookie sheet and heating them in the oven, we removed them from the oven when ready to fill. The jars should then be boiled following normal canning procedures. The jars will sometimes make a snapping sound as the lids curve inward - despite watching them for about fifteen minutes, our jars didn't seem to do this. As Peter's mama said, "a watched pot never boils".

Although this recipe isn't an exact replica of the rhubarb relish they serve at Magnolia's Grill, it is an excellent second. We will continue our efforts to duplicate their recipe. Overall the recipe was surprisingly simple and delicious - a definite redo.

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Rhubarb Relish:

2 Quarts Chopped Rhubarb

2 Quarts Onions (scalded)

7 Cups White Sugar

3 Cups Cider Vinegar

2 Tsp Salt

1 Tsp Pepper

2 Tsp Ground Cloves

2 Tsp Cinnamon


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    by seafood paella on, December 22, 2010 3:20 PM

    This recipe looks great. I can't wait to try it myself. Thanks for sharing