It is now mid-June and I, along with most people who raise vegetables here in the Adirondacks, have finished getting the plants into the garden. At this point, it is pretty much a waiting game. We already have some lettuce and herbs, but otherwise it will be a month or two before serious vegetables start rolling in. In the meantime, different fruits and berries will be ripening at regular intervals, the first of which has already made its appearance – rhubarb.
Actually, rhubarb is a vegetable, but in the United States, it was decided by the courts back in 1947 that since rhubarb was used in the United States as a fruit, it would be considered a fruit for the purposes of regulations. Not that most people have to buy rhubarb. It is a hardy perennial that comes up with little effort year after year, and almost everyone either has or knows someone with a patch in their yard which yields more stalks than someone could ever use.
And therein lies the challenge. It makes me slightly crazy to think there is some edible plant laying there abundantly on the ground without any good solution for using it all up. You can make some pie, but that only uses a few stalks. What to do with the rest? I know some people freeze it with great success, but honestly, I’m not going to be making a rhubarb pie every week for the rest of the year. The next option in preservation of food after freezing is canning. Rhubarb does make a very good jam or compote when mixed with other fruits, and to this end I did make a tasty Pineapple-Rhubarb-Strawberry jam about a week ago. Jam, though, presents the same problem as pie. How much jam is one family honestly going to eat? Not to mention as the season moves forward, there will be all sorts of berries and fruits that will want to be made into jam as well.
What I needed was something that would both use a lot of rhubarb AND be useful. A friend of mine suggested you can make rhubarb into barbeque sauce. That seemed a reasonable solution to me- for the next few months, there will be a lot of grilling going on. And even during the cold season, barbeque sauce can be added to a variety of recipes. So I turned to the trusty interwebs for advice and sure enough, there are hundreds of variations of rhubarb barbeque sauce.
One recipe really caught my attention. In it, they suggested you can smoke the rhubarb prior to cooking it to add a smoky flavor to your sauce. I just had to try it. I actually did not follow the site’s recipe for sauce, but instead improvised a recipe of my own. But I did smoke the rhubarb as instructed. As I was afraid it might not be a success, I made a small batch first to test the results, the recipe for which I will give below. It’s a small enough amount that you won’t need to can it. The sauce turned out better than I could have imagined. The rhubarb smoked up perfectly in my small barrel smoker in only 20 minutes. I then cooked up the sauce and, in another 20 minutes I had 2 pints of thick, smoky, tangy barbeque sauce that tastes wonderful on chicken and pork, and I’m sure would taste great on beef as well. (If you don’t own a smoker, you can still make this sauce. Substitute 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke for the smoking process.)
Smoked Rhubarb Barbeque Sauce
6-7 medium thickness stalks of rhubarb
2 Tbsps canola oil
6-8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp mustard seed
4 Tbsps cumin
4 Tbsps garlic powder
Prepare your smoker. I used cherry wood chips, but apple would work just as well. Cut rhubarb into 6-inch long pieces. Cover a wire rack with aluminum foil and place rhubarb on top of this. Put in your smoker and shut the lid. The rhubarb is done when it is soft to the touch, approximately 20 to 25 minutes after placing in smoker.
While the rhubarb is smoking, very finely chop 1 large yellow onion. I actually put my onion in a mini-chopper. You want it very fine as this will both prevent chunks in your sauce as well as work as a thickener. Peel and finely chop 6-8 cloves of garlic.
When the rhubarb has finished smoking, take it out and chop it into 1-inch chunks. Take a heavy bottomed pan, and put approximately 2 tablespoons of oil in pan and place on the stove over high heat. Add onions to pan, stirring constantly until onions are translucent. Add rhubarb, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar and spices and stir all together. Turn heat down. Once contents of pot have liquified, add 1 can of tomato paste. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until rhubarb has completely softened and the contents of pot are a thick sauce.
At this point, you can adjust the spices to taste. If you like spicy sauce, add chili powder or whatever hot pepper is to your liking. Turn off stove and allow sauce to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Now put the entire contents of the pan into a blender and hit “puree” until sauce is uniform in consistency. Done!