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I bet you’re confused. I mean, isn’t rhubarb the twist on ketchup? Yes, it is indeed, but I inadvertently gave this batch a second twist. I joke all the time about accidentally baking (or eating, or buying, etc.) something, but this time I accidentally left an ingredient out of my cooking project, two if you’re being technical. When I say I accidentally bought something, I am joking; it is hard to trip and hand someone money and then wait for them to put your shoes, cupcake, perfume, whatever in a to-go bag. But this was a true accident: I made an entire seven-jar batch of rhubarb ketchup without a single pinch of added sugar.

And it’s wonderful! I would do it again.

I made the ketchup Sunday and didn’t even discover my omission until yesterday morning. After posting a picture of the jarred ketchup on Facebook and receiving some requests for the recipe, my intention was to post the link from the site I borrowed most heavily from, with a note explaining my changes. As I read through the link, I noticed that my changes were more than I could easily note… because I forgot both brown and white sugar! How’s that for a modification? Now, it’s true that I routinely look at multiple versions of the same final product and blend elements I like from different sources to create my own recipe. Sometimes I have 3, 4, or more browser windows or cookbooks open and/or printed recipes spread across the counter. In this case, I believe that the paragraph-style formatting of my main source for rhubarb ketchup (which I was reading off my phone) caused me to gloss right past the sugar. I am not blaming the messenger, I promise. I made a mistake, but a happy mistake.

I used the recipe for “ketchup #1″ from Sweet Domesticity for the most part, adding a few spices at the end to round out what I felt was a tart and slightly flat flavor. Well, now I know why it seemed tart, but at the time I chalked it up to the unique qualities rhubarb was bringing to the condiment. I had never tried rhubarb ketchup but was nonetheless ready to make some with part of the rhubarb bounty I had on hand last weekend. I learned last fall that ketchup doesn’t always mean tomato and have been excited to experiment (shocking!) with different kinds of fruit and vegetables. Rhubarb was my first go at alternative ketchuping. (Or is it “ketchupping”?)

So, back to the sugar. I am thrilled that I left it out. My husband and I both like the flavor of the sugarless condiment and look forward to using it in place of mostly-too-sweet commercial tomato ketchup. It is a little sour, but not unpleasantly so, and the tomatoes in the recipe keep it close enough to a traditional version that I think it can be a straight substitute wherever ketchup is needed. I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy the tartness of rhubarb, so I might recommend a happy middle ground for anyone who thinks rhubarb ketchup is a big step forward; perhaps half the amount of sugar called for in the original recipe would be a good place to start, so I will write that into the recipe below as optional ingredients. If you prefer to be sugar-free, this recipe may be for you!, and by all means leave it out as I did. I am actually fairly excited about my twist on rhubarb ketchup and wonder if anyone else will dare want to make some?

Sugar-Free Rhubarb Ketchup (makes about 7 half-pints)

  • 4 c. rhubarb, cut in 1/2 – 1″ pieces
  • 3 c. Spanish onions, chopped
  • 1 c. white vinegar (with at least 5% acidity if you plan to can)
  • 1/2 c. white sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes, or 28 oz. diced canned tomatoes, with liquid included
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder (optional)
  • 1 T. pickling spice, tied in a cheesecloth bundle

If you are going to can your ketchup, prepare your jars and heat the water for your water bath. In a non-reactive stock pot or Dutch oven, bring all the ingredients to a boil. Lower the heat and partially cover, leaving a steam vent; simmer the ketchup for 45 mins., stirring occasionally at first and more frequently toward the end to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and discard the bundled pickling spice. Use an immersion blender to puree the ketchup until smooth; if it is too thin for your liking, return to the heat and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens. Remember that it will thicken further as it cools. If you’re canning, ladle the hot ketchup into half-pint or pint jars, affix flat and screw lids and water bath process for 10 mins. at a rolling boil. Remove the jars from the water bath to a clean towel-covered counter space and leave untouched for 24 hours. Alternately, put your ketchup into tightly-covered containers and store in the fridge for several months.