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Last Of The Summer Rhubarb

Exotic: (adjective)

1. From another part of the world; foreign;
2. Intriguingly unusual or different; excitingly strange;

There will, no doubt, be much that fits those descriptions at this weekend’s Festival of World Cultures in Dun Laoghaire. A gloriously bubbling stew of music, dance, crafts and food from the far flung reaches of the globe. Even if food were your only interest – and who would I be to judge you for that – the festival’s International Food Traders would surely warrant a visit, as would the Global Village and the South Asian Mela Market.

All told, not a bad way to spend a few days. However, as luck and my projected geographical location for the weekend would have it, I will miss the entire thing. Clearly I will have to compensate by cooking something with a suitably international pedigree. Like ketchup. And if you suppose that such a ubiquitous sauce is too familiar to be exotic, you might have to revise your thinking when you meet the variety made from rhubarb.

Rhubarb ketchup

Rhubarb ketchup - yes, such a thing exists

See, the first thing you need to know is that, while tomato ketchup might hold a rather dominant position in the global condiment market, it isn’t even the original of the ketchup species.

What were called catsups originated in China and were discovered there by East India merchants sometime in the 17th century, who then introduced them to other parts of Asia and thence to Britain and beyond. Most early catsups were based on mushrooms and it was only when the tomato become more popular in the 19th century that tomato catsup start to emerge.

The chief virtue of early catsups was that they kept for a very long time and were thus popular on long sea voyages. In her book Curry, Lizzie Collingham reports on a recipe that Hannah Glasse provided in the 1748 edition of The Art of Cookery. The recipe, addressed to the “Captains of Ships”, called for stale beer, anchovies, mace, cloves, pepper, ginger and mushrooms in order to make a “Catchup to keep Twenty Years”.

Now, while I do expect this rhubarb ketchup to mature nicely over time, I can’t really guarantee that it will keep for 20 years. I, for one, could not restrain myself from eating such a tangy, fruity concoction for anything like that long.

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Rhubarb Ketchup

I was casting around for something to do with the rhubarb from my garden, which is rapidly approaching the end of its season, when my beady eyes lit upon a recipe for rhubarb ketchup in Pam Corbin’s lovely book Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2 .

I would have to say, however, that my efforts at making this did not go according to the recipe plan – a plan which involved roasting rhubarb, onion and garlic, pushing the results through a sieve and then combining with vinegar, sugar and spices. My vegetable charges were nearly roasted into oblivion after the suggested roasting time, and pushing the results through a sieve would have yielded a miniscule amount of pulp. So I just took my roasted results, blended them with the other ingredients and adjusted amounts and the recipe accordingly.

Fortunately, I don’t think the result suffered. In fact, having opened the first batch after 3 weeks, I feel a distinct urge to make more so that I can eat it with Indian-style curries, mix with yoghurt for a tangy dip or just dollop onto the nearest plate of chips.

A word of warning: Do watch out for splashes as the ketchup simmers. My mixture was very thick and given to dangerous little eruptions, so it was important to keep it covered while simmering and to remove from the heat before checking progress.

You’ll need:
  • 1 kg rhubarb, chopped into approx. 2cm lengths
  • 125g red onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 150ml cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 0.5 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 150g demerara sugar
You’ll also need:
  • Baking trays for roasting the vegetables.
  • A blender or food processor for blending the ketchup.
  • Jars, wax seals and preferably non-metallic lids for approx. 600ml worth of ketchup (or more if you like a thinner consistency).
The Steps:
  • Preheat your oven to 150C.
  • Spread the rhubarb in a single layer on one or more baking trays, preferably lined with parchment paper. Spread the onion and garlic on a separate tray.
  • Roast until the rhubarb, onion and garlic are completely soft and the onion is a little charred around the edges. Depending on your oven and on the thickness of the rhubarb stems, this may take from 20 to 40 minutes or so, so check periodically.
  • While the vegetables are roasting, wash your jars in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and sterilise by boiling in water for 10 minutes and (once the vegetables are out of the oven), reduce the oven temperature to 140C and keep the jars there until ready to fill with ketchup.
  • Using a food processor or blender, blend together the roasted rhubarb, onion and garlic with the cider vinegar, salt, cumin, coriander, ginger, cayenne and approx 400ml water. The mixture will be thick and pulpy.
  • Place a large, non-reactive saucepan (aluminium, stainless steel or enamelled) over a medium heat. Add the blended rhubarb mixture and the sugar to the saucepan and stir to mix. If you want a thinner consistency for your ketchup, you can add a little more water if you like. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 35 minutes. The mixture will reduce a little and darken.
  • Carefully pour the ketchup into your hot, sterilised jars, to within 3mm of the tops. Seal with a wax disc and cover with lids which have been dipped in boiling water.
  • Leave in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks or more before using.
The Variations:
  • I could certainly imagine adding some apples to this. If it were the right season for apples, that is.
The Results:
  • 600ml of thick, tasty ketchup.


  1. lisaiscooking

    Rhubarb in a ketchup sounds much more interesting to me than mushrooms! I’d love to taste this, and adding apple sounds great too.

  2. OysterCulture

    I cannot wait to try your tasty version of ketchup, my mind is churning with the possibilities. I think from reading this post, that this ketchup gives chutneys a run for their money on a well dressed table with a delicious Indian repast. Cannot wait to try it for myself.

  3. Daily Spud

    lisaiscooking: it does, doesn’t it (not that I would rule out trying a mushroom ketchup if I had a good recipe!)

    OysterCulture: ketchup is really just a smooth-pourin’ cousin to chutney – I think there’s a place for them both as part of an Indian-style spread :)

  4. Sarah, Maison Cupcake

    Cor, this sounds great, I wish I could say with sincerity that I was going to hop off and make some but creations in jars and I are few and far between.

    Pity you can’t courier some over to me!!

    BTW I had a lot of fun at the Irish embassy last night and came away loaded down with all kinds of Irish branded goodies.

  5. The Diva on a Diet

    Oh but you are a knowledgeable and creative Spud! I’ve never even heard of rhubarb ketchup … but it looks spectacular. I’d love to try it!

  6. Velva

    Really? Rhubarb ketchup? Okay, I am impressed.

  7. Tangled Noodle

    In my fridge is a near-empty bottle of rhubarb ketchup from a local food producer – very delicious but quite pricey. You are a dear for sharing your recipe so that I can keep myself well-stocked with rhubarb-y condiments for the next 20 years or so. 8-)

  8. gastroanthropologist

    Rhubarb ketchup – have never heard of it! You know look at the ingredients I’m thinking this would go great with grilled cheese…

    I haven’t seen rhubarb lately so will have to bookmark for next season!

  9. zerrin

    Sounds so appetizing!Making ketchup at home must be a great experience. I wish we had rhubarb here. I’ve seen so many recipes with it from desserts to ketchup (as in this one), and I’m so curious about this interesting fruit.

  10. Chef E

    So right about it being a cousin to curry…same with chutney and preserves, some added more sugar, some added spice, some live with out it…its all right!

    rhubarb is dancing in my head now… hmmm, all living things animate and do that from time to time, will see a doctor about it some day :)

    ha ha my word veri is preserves…maybe its normal?

  11. Daily Spud

    Sarah: Saw some of the pictures from the Irish Embassy event – looked like fun! Hope you’ve been enjoying the Irish foodie goodies. Should have sent them some of my rhubarb ketchup to give out :D

    Diva: …and I hadn’t heard of it ’til a few weeks ago – now I am sold!

    Velva: yes, really :) (and thank you!)

    Tangled Noodle: See, I knew that the contents of our fridges would have a lot in common! Now you can have rhubarb ketchup a la Spud for years to come :D

    gastroanthropologist: haven’t tried it with grilled cheese yet but I fully intend to!

    zerrin: what’s even more interesting is that rhubarb is actually a vegetable, but it gets used in all sorts of dishes where we would expect to find fruit; and I would definitely say that this ketchup tastes fruity, even though it mainly consists of vegetables

    Chef E: this is definitely in curry territory – as for dancing rhubarb, I now have a very interesting image of same in my head :D

  12. Sophie

    What a great alternative ketchup this is!!

    MMMMMMM,..i can’t wait to try this!! thanks for sharing!

  13. Nenaghgal

    This sounds fabulous – I can’t wait to try as I’m a big fan of rhubarb and always looking for new ways to cook with it. Enjoying your blog.

  14. valentina

    how interesting. i would have never thought of having anything other than tomatoes. that’s what makes it even more exciting. I might still be able to get some rhubarb. Well, I can always try because i am really curious to taste it.

  15. Daily Spud

    Sophie: hope you like it – I must say I’m really enjoying it at the moment myself

    Nenaghgal: Thank you! Glad you dropped in to say so, and I definitely recommend trying this if you’ve still got any rhubarb around…

    Valentina: hope you manage to get some rhubarb to try this!

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