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Monday, July 26, 2010

Mama's Little Rhubarb

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!

We’ve been hitting Magnolias 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!

Magnolias 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 host). It doesn’t end their of course, Mags has a secret weapon – Rhubarb Relish! If you’re not from the 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 (Diane) rhubarb patch was prime for the picking, and given Diane’s 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.

Rhubarb Relish:


2 quarts (8 cups) chopped rhubarb
2 quarts (8 cups) sliced onions
7 cups white sugar
3 cups cider vinegar (or white)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp cinnamon


Scald sliced onions in boiling water for a few minutes, discard water. Combine all ingredients. Bring to hard boil. Reduce head and low boil for an 1 hr 30 minutes. Fill sterilized jars and process.

Dutch Oven Tips & Tricks:

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. Eiasenhauer (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 1 hour 30 minutes until we were happy with its consistency. The recipe yields about eight 500 ml jars (the recipe doesn’t specify this).

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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Deconstructing the Dutch Oven

The Dutch Oven Diaries is a blog dedicated to deconstructing the recipes of the Dutch Oven Cookbook. A cookbook of coveted traditional recipes from the Kitchens of Lunenburg originally produced by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Lunenburg Hospital Society and published in 1953 in celebration of the town's bicentennial anniversary. The Dutch Oven Cookbook, a piece of artwork in itself, contains hand-written recipes and illustrations by the recipe authors themselves. This can create a bit of challenge at times depending on the author’s penmanship! These Lunenburg Ladies of the 50’s were pros – most of whom would prepare their recipes from memory, rarely depending on a written recipe. As a result, many of the recipes leave gaps from a directional point of view – temperatures, cooking times and detailed instructions are often omitted. This undoubtably will lead to some trial and error – or if worst comes to worst – you can pick up the phone and call the author for more detail – something we had to do in preparing for our first recipe blog entry “Mama's Little Rhubarb” (to be posted soon). The author wasn’t home, so we had to wing it, but many of the authors are still cookin’ and reside in the town of Lunenburg. The illustration on the cover of the Dutch Oven Cookbook was provided by famous Lunenburg Artist Earl Bailly while other full page illustrations throughout the book were provided by Phillip Backman.

Julie Powell (The Julie/Julia Project) we are not and French cooking this ain't! The authors of the Dutch Oven were/are not Julia Child, in fact, they probably did not even know who Julia Child was as the Dutch Oven Cookbook was published 8 years before the Art of French Cooking. Many of the recipes in the Dutch Oven are quite simple in execution while others are quite complex. While many of the recipes would have been part of our childhood, many we’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing. Eel, Rabbit and beef tongue are not ingredients that we are accustomed to using – and quite frankly never wanted to. However, this adventure is about keeping an open mind and experiencing all the culinary delights of our ancestors. In doing so we commit to preparing all 447 pages worth of recipes in the Dutch Oven Cookbook!

The recipes of the Dutch Oven Cookbook have been passed from generation to generation, and while the cookbook has been modified a bit since its original publishing in 1953 - some of the recipe names and hand drawn illustrations have been revised to reflect a more politically correct era - the recipes remain original, and are steeped in Lunenburg’s long history and traditions!

Jan Young (mild mannered accountant by day) and Peter Johnson (mild mannered Civil Servant by day), are lifelong friends and self proclaimed foodies by night...and just about any other time they're not working...and sometimes when they're working. Originally from Lunenburg (born and raised), they will take on the challenge of cooking and sharing their culinary adventures as they cook and blog their way through the Dutch Oven Cookbook - a commitment to reproduce every recipe - the good, the bad and the Delicious!!

If you have a passion for food, history, tradition and the culinary arts in general -Join us as we flashback to the 1950's and follow in the footsteps of some of Lunenburg's finest original foodies. Join us through our culinary triumphs and defeats as we tackle Lunenburg's oldest and most cherished cookbook.