The rhubarb was so late coming up this spring, we thought they hadn’t survived the harsh winter and bought a back-up plant just in case. So when they finally did appear in the garden this week, it hardly seemed fair to have a couple of bags of it left unused in the freezer. To show our appreciation for their annual arrival, we made up a spice-filled batch of luscious Victorian Barbecue Sauce.
We first heard of Victorian Barbecue Sauce at one of our “Ask a Master Food Preserver” events at the farmers’ market, when a woman stopped by in search of a recipe for it. Given the vast number of recipes indexed at Eat Your Books, we were surprised to find only one reference. From the Ball Complete Book Home Preserving on the recipe’s origin: “Victorian cooks roasted their meat in huge kitchen fireplaces and enhanced it with homemade sauces concocted from garden staples such as rhubarb. Today’s barbecue chefs can add the same fruity complements to grilled foods as they cook.”
For a less chunky version, we slightly altered the original recipe (below) by omitting the raisins, mincing the onion finely, and used cider vinegar in place of white. The sauce cooked down more quickly than expected and, when we went to adjust the seasoning, the taste was unexpectedly familiar. We realized that we’d made a wonderfully delicious rhubarb ketchup and, along the way, discovered how one recipe could be made two ways.
Victorian Barbecue Sauce
Makes about 4 pint jars
8 cups chopped rhubarb
3½ cups lightly packed brown sugar
1½ cups chopped raisins
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
- Prepare canner, jar, and lids.
- In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, raisins, onion, vinegar, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until mixture is thickened to the consistency of a thin commercial barbecue sauce, about 30 minutes.
- Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot sauce. Wipe rim, center life on jar, screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
- Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.
Adapted from “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine.
For Rhubarb Ketchup: Omit the raisins, mince the onion finely, use cider vinegar in place of the white. Further reduce the sauce until thick and spoonable. If desired, blend for a smoother texture. Makes about 4 half-pints.