Rhubarb and Fig Chutney

I love this chutney. So simple to make, and yet such a beautiful combination of tart and mellow, spicy and sweet. A couple of years ago I would never have believed anything this delicious could be made from rhubarb. It is easy to look down on rhubarb, to associate it with sad, soggy puddings, or artificially flavoured hardboiled sweets (in the UK at least. Are there any other countries that make those two-tone, lurid “rhubarb and custard” sweets?)

The reason for my late-blooming love is my mother-in-law’s beautiful rhubarb meringue pie.  Before, I only knew my father’s terrible stewed rhubarb. My dad loves his microwave. LOVES it. He even used to use it to cook bacon, before I begged him to stop. He also loves rhubarb, which he microwaves, of course. He would devour it with lip-smacking enthusiasm, untouched by sugar or cream, but for me it felt like punishment, just like his microwaved cabbage.

But now I see. Its tartness is part of its charm, like a gangster’s moll,  a tart with a heart, the heroine of a noir pulp paperback. It thrives in a neglected corner of the garden, looking wild and prehistoric, and housing frogs under its vast spreading leaves. Unlike the more delicate fruits, which sulk if they have competition, rhubarb thrives in combination with other strong flavours. Gentle cooking and judicious sweetening bring out its best, which is why this chutney is a perfect way to enjoy it.

I used figs, because that was what I had lurking in my cupboard, and because they add the rich sweetness that combines so well with the knockout punch of acidity from the rhubarb, but you could use dates instead, or try it with apricots. Raisins would also work, at a pinch. It is wonderful together witha strong cheese.

Rhubarb and Fig Chutney

Makes 2 Jars

About 4-5 stalks of rhubarb

1 leek

A handful of dried figs, chopped, with the hard stalks discarded

1 coffee cup of brown sugar

½ coffee cup of white wine vinegar

1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed with the side of a knife

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 2cm piece of ginger, chopped

2 mild pickled chillies, stalks removed, but seeds retained. You could use a fresh chilli instead, in which case 1 hot chilli will be plenty, but I wanted to keep the recipe seasonal, so I used chillies I pickled last summer.

Method:

Chop the rhubarb and leek into 1cm pieces and put them into a pan with all the other ingredients. Allow to rest for one hour.

  1. In the meantime, clean and sterilise your jars. I do this by putting them in a warm oven while I cook the chutney
  2. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Use a hand held blender to break down the chutney a bit. I like a nice balance of smooth and chunky, but you could leave the pieces whole, or blend it to a completely smooth sauce.
  4. Pot the hot chutney in the warm jars, wipe down the rims, and screw on the lids. Like this they will keep for a month or two, but for longer storage, process for five minutes in a water bath. To do this, put a tea towel on the bottom of a pan, place the jars on the tea towel and cover with water. Bring the pan to a boil and time five minutes from when boiling point is reached. This will sterilise the contents and they can now be kept for a year.
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