All posts by Nancy Fornasiero

rhubarb relish in white bowl

Rhubarb Relish Recipe is a Breakfast Favourite

Katherine Eisenhauer, a ninth-generation resident of Lunenburg, NS, has been the chef-owner of The Savvy Sailor Cafe in her hometown since 2012. Her unassuming little restaurant, which boasts a view of Lunenburg’s historic UNESCO World Heritage Site waterfront, is a favourite with tourists and locals alike. Fresh locally sourced ingredients and a diverse menu that includes many of her own family’s favourite dishes are the secrets to her success.

rhubarb relish in white bowl

“Rhubarb is definitely a well-loved ingredient in Nova Scotia; it grows in many backyards, including my own,” says Katherine. “I still remember helping my grandmother — my dad’s mum, Josephine — pull rhubarb from the huge patch in the yard of the home she lived in with Gramps when I was a kid. I think they had the best rhubarb patch in town. We would have a great time together gathering it, washing it and chopping it up. Although she made different things with it, Gamma (as I always call her) was most famous for her rhubarb relish. I can hardly remember a family gathering where fish was served when it wasn’t on the table.”

“Hers is the exact recipe I still use today in the cafe. In fact, I followed it right from her own handwriting in the Dutch Oven cookbook just this morning! The Dutch Oven is a Lunenburg classic. It was first published in 1953 by Gamma and her friends in The Ladies Auxiliary of the Fishermen’s Memorial Hospital and it’s full of traditional Nova Scotia recipes. When they created it as a fundraiser back then, the ladies sure didn’t expect it to remain popular all these years later. It’s now in its 21st printing.”

Related: Anna Olson’s Best Savoury Baked Breakfasts

“Around here, rhubarb relish is typically eaten with whitefish, cod or haddock, or with other cod-based dishes, like fish cakes. That’s how we serve it at the cafe: alongside our famous fish cakes and baked beans as part of our Lunenburg Breakfast. It’s one of our most popular items, even though it’s pretty unusual for people to choose fish for breakfast. (I guess when they visit us, they figure: when in Rome?). People really love the relish — they’re always asking me, “Can I buy some? Can I buy some?” So when I have enough on hand, I sell some to customers. When stored properly in the fridge, it lasts many months. We also serve it for dinner alongside fish cakes and salad or pan-seared Atlantic cod and salad.”

“This recipe has so many great personal connections for me, but what really stands out is our family’s annual fish-cake brunch. For as long as anyone can remember, we’ve been gathering for this event between Christmas and New Year’s — both sides of the family, as well as family friends. It’s the sort of meal where we prep about 50 pounds of potatoes and 15 pounds of cod! The relish is always a big part of that meal.”

“We’ve been in Lunenburg since 1753, when the three Eisenhauer brothers first arrived from Germany. Traditions mean a lot to us. Grandma’s 90 now and though she still loves to cook, I make the relish these days and take my relish over to her. She’s given it her stamp of approval! I’m so happy to be keeping her tradition alive.”

The Savvy Sailor’s Rhubarb Relish

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 ½ hours (includes chilling time)
Total Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Servings: 8 cups

Ingredients:

8 cups chopped rhubarb
8 cups onions, thinly sliced
7 cups granulated sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

1. Chop rhubarb into rough dice; set aside.

2. Add onions to separate bowl. Cover with boiling water; let sit for 5 minutes. Drain and discard water.

3. In heavy-bottomed pot, dissolve sugar in cider vinegar on medium heat. Add onions, rhubarb, salt, cloves and cinnamon. Stir well. Cook, stirring often, until it reaches a thick jam-like consistency, 40 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Remove from heat; let cool. Place in jar and refrigerate.

Published May 24, 2016, Updated June 1, 2019

Summer Starts With Saskatoon Berries (and the Most Delicious Berry Crisp Recipe!)

Growing up at her grandmother’s knee, learning to farm, forage and cook with the freshest ingredients, it’s no surprise that Candace Ippolito became the owner and CEO of the SaskMade Marketplace, a thriving business that showcases the best of what Saskatchewan’s farmers, food producers and artisans have to offer. Here, she recalls one of her favourite food memories: her grandmother’s Saskatoon berry crisp. “Every delicious bite of my grandmother’s Saskatoon berry crisp is a sticky, sweet flavour bomb, but there’s a lot more to it than that for me. My personal history is basically baked into that dessert.”

“Grandma’s crisp takes me back to the farm, where I grew up surrounded by my tight-knit family. Grandma and Grandpa lived right next door, and my aunt, uncle and cousins lived not too far away. As a kid, breakfast and lunch always took place at Grandma’s. Mom left early for work in town, so in the morning, my brother and I would have a quick bite with Grandma before boarding the school bus. At lunch, there was always a big made-from-scratch feast for everyone, including the men who worked with Dad and Grandpa on our cattle farm. Since Grandma was Irish, potatoes were always part of the meal. Every fall, we would dig the potatoes up and haul them down to her cold cellar in the basement, and every spring, we would haul about half of them back up again—never a shortage of potatoes. And since she had a huge garden, there were always veggies, too, either freshly picked or from her cellar stash of preserves and frozen vegetables.”

“The main attraction was usually a braised beef dish, but you never knew which parts you were going to get. Grandma was the original nose-to-tail chef! We never wasted a thing that was grown, butchered or foraged around our homestead.”

“Of course, Grandma’s spreads were never complete without her baked goods. She made wonderful cream puffs, rolls and fluffy biscuits. Best of all were her homemade pies, cinnamon buns, crisps and other sweet treats. Her Saskatoon berry crisp, always served with fresh whipped cream, was my favourite. There’s something about the texture. The base was ripe Saskatoon berries melted down, soft and sweet; then the crumb topping was really brown and rich and had kind of a caramelized taste to it. With every mouthful, you’d get a sweet, syrupy start, then finish with a delicate buttery crunch. I don’t know how else to put it except to say that, to me, that crisp tastes like love.”

“You know what else? To me, this recipe tastes like the month of July. July is the only time of year for harvesting Saskatoons. Our whole family would go up to a friend’s property, each of us with an empty ice cream pail in hand, and we weren’t allowed to quit until everyone’s pail was full. The older kids were always happy to help out the younger ones—otherwise, the day would never end! That once-a-year outing set us up with enough berries to last a long time. We sometimes worried about finding bears up there in the hills, and I sure didn’t like wearing Grandpa’s ugly old work shirts that protected us from the prickly bushes and mosquitoes as big as hawks—but all the same, I have really happy memories of those berry-picking days.”

“For a lot of my friends, memories of their grandmothers are about going for ice cream or shopping at a mall. We’re a fourth-generation farming family, so that’s not my experience. For me, it’s about sitting on a veranda, peeling carrots or shelling peas. It’s about pulling potatoes in the garden, gathering eggs from the chicken coop or picking Saskatoons. ‘Busy hands’ is what we used to call our time with my grandparents. There was always some work project going on with us, and that’s OK. She instilled in us that a family that works together, stays together!”

Grandma Betsy’s Saskatoon Berry Crisp

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

4 cups freshly picked Saskatoon berries (if using frozen
berries, they must be completely thawed and excess moisture removed)
¾ cup flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
Pinch salt
½ cup cold butter

Directions:

1. Add berries to buttered 10- x 6-inch (3 L) baking dish.

2. In bowl, mix together flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Using pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture is in coarse crumbs.

3. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over berries. Bake in 350° F oven for 40 minutes, or until  topping is golden brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or  ice cream.

Published August 21, 2015, Updated August 20, 2018

Photo courtesy of Candace Ippolito