Inspiration can come from anywhere and, to me, that birth of the idea has always been the most fascinating parts of the creative process. Once I am set on exploring an idea, I like to trace it back to inspiration, just to see the roots – to understand what steps and iterations took place to get from thought to action. When I traced this project back to find that spark, I found that, like many, it was born from a series of mistakes.
It started at the Green City Market where one of my favorite farmers, Mick Klug, had his rhubarb out with the greens still on them. After a brief scare with my dog (RIP Mojo) about 5 years ago involving him eating a rhubarb scone off of our ottoman, I know good and well that rhubarb greens are toxic to both humans and canines. However, when I returned home from the market, my hands were full attending to my daughters, so I did not have time to strip the leaves from the stalks as I intended to do. When lunch came around, I had asked my wife to pull the bag of mustard greens from the fridge and she unknowingly brought me the rhubarb. Mick had failed to strip the greens. I had failed to strip the greens. My wife had failed to discern mustards from rhubarb. But the words mustard and rhubarb rang out in my head as a possible combination. I am a huge mustard fan and thought that a cool, spring mustard to add to my condiment shelf might be a rhubarb flavored mustard.
A simple mistake from the farmer, by me, and then by my wife led to a spark that led to an idea of combining rhubarb and mustard (not mustard greens, even, which I did later for a nice veg dish with five spice and chili). After a brief search, it became clear that rhubarb mostarda was a thing. It makes complete sense given the tart flavors. Hell, I’ve made cranberry mostarda and when looking to make new rhubarb dishes in the Spring, I always look for cranberry dishes and sub in rhubarb. When you think about it though, besides both mustard and mostarda containing mustard seeds, they are quite different.
I am a mustard freak. I wanted mustard. This meant that I would need to focus the tartness of the rhubarb instead of accentuate it as it would be in mostarda. What better way to narrow and focus that tartness than to bring in the intensely garlic/onion flavor of the rhubarb’s fellow spring food trend – the ramp?
After a number of test batches, I settled on a ratio of mustard to ramp to rhubarb and finished up a jar of the mustard pickling the mustard seeds for a half week with homemade white wine vinegar and a session beer made locally by Two Brothers’.
This Saturday, I stopped by the Butcher and Larder and picked up a slice of coppa di testa and ciccioli to test out the mustard in a way that uses mustard the way that I love to use it best – slathered, bread-free, on great handmade charcuterie. The flavor of the mustard is really unique. It is still mustard, first and foremost, and not mustard flavored fruit condiment. The rhubarb flavor is not at the forefront with the mustard. That is the role of the ramps where that familiar stink leads the way with the mustard, but the finish features that unmistakable tartness. It is this taste that reminds of Spring. You have a little stink, a little tart, but an absence of the sweetness that only comes after the heat of the summer.
The rhubarb also brings a slightly pinkish hue to the mustard. The mustard seeds are pickled and broken up slightly. I prefer the grains of mustard to be prominent and to pop between my teeth. Each bite featuring the explosive punch of mustard which serves as a reminder of the mistakes that led to the mustard itself and that mistakes are not the end of an idea, but often the start of one.
Rhubarb & Ramp Mustard
Makes 300 mL of mustard
- 1 oz. yellow mustard seeds
- 1 oz. brown mustard seeds
- 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup ale
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 stalks rhubarb, sliced thinly
- 2 ramps, chopped
Step one: Combine the mustard seeds, vinegar, salt and ale in a bowl. Let the mixture pickle for three days.
Step two: In a small sauce pan, simmer rhubarb in a tablespoon of water or so until it breaks down almost completely. Pour into a ramekin, let cool.
Step three: Rinse out sauce pan, and simmer ramps in a tablespoon of water until they soften, but take no color. Scrape into ramekin, let cool.
Step four: Scrape contents of pickled mustard seeds and rhubarb mixture into a blender or food processor. Puree until grains are desired size. Adding water 1 teaspoon at a time, if needed.
Step five: Add cooled ramps. Stir. Taste. Reseason.
Store in a sealable jar or process as you would with any mustard.