Fall-time in Alaska has the richest smell – one that is hard to fully describe to someone who has never experienced the amazingly overwhelming combination of a thousand scents…
The ever-present sappy smell of evergreens…
The musky scent of rotting leaves, scattered across the ground in the chill breeze…
But most of all, the rich tang of ripe cranberries wafting through the crisp air.
Of all the mountain smells, ripe cranberry is the scent I miss the most!
I have always loved picking wild berries, so much so that my mom would have an extra task on her “to do” list when I would show up unexpectedly with a bucket of berries before I was old enough to process them myself.
Cranberry meat sauce has been a traditional family recipe since before I was born – and I love it to this day!
We typically would use the sauce when we had fried moose steaks – I mean, how much more Alaskan can it get?!
BUT, living on the prairies is very different than mountain living in many ways.
We lack the wild cranberry plants and I hate buying something I grew up picking, catching or growing (buying salmon is a huge no-no!)
Without cranberries, I realized that rhubarb has a similar amount of tartness and decided to give this recipe a make-over to use my abundance of homegrown rhubarb!
Highbush cranberries have much more water content than lowbush cranberries (did you even know there were other kinds of cranberries than your typical Thanksgiving spread..?) or rhubarb, so I added more water to the mix than the original recipe called for.
I cooked the rhubarb on low heat while I chopped and added onions and fresh celery.
Next came the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and cloves.
But I didn’t have the allspice the recipe called for on hand!
Oh! Guess what? Allspice is a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg – so I simply added the cinnamon and nutmeg to get the proper taste.
I love the flavour profile some garlic adds, so I threw in a couple cloves.
And while I was changing the recipe a bit, why not add a few drops of liquid smoke?
I mean, I was substituting rhubarb for cranberries anyway – may as well go all in with my intuitive cooking style!
Once all the ingredients were combined, I brought the mixture to a low simmer and turned it down so it barely bubbled.
Slow and steady wins the race here!
Trust me! If the mixture burns on the bottom, the entire batch will have a dark, burned taste that will ruin the sauce.
Thick sauces are prone to burn easily (even if stirred regularly) if the heat is too high.
PRO TIP #1: The thicker the bottom of the sauce pan is, the less likely the batch is to burn.
Slowly cooking the sauce down to the right thickness also helps the flavours to blend and enhances the end result.
PRO TIP #2: Place the sauce in a crock pot on low heat to allow it to reduce to the desired consistency.
Once it has cooked down to the thickness of applesauce, place the meat sauce in sanitized jars and process with a hot water bath.
This recipe makes about 2 pints.
Rhubarb meat sauce pairs extremely well with wild game, lamb, and other meats with its spiced tartness; it can also be used in wine reduction sauces and baked beans.
8 cups rhubarb, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 onion, chopped
1 1/3 cup white vinegar
2 2/3 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 drops liquid smoke
Combine rhubarb, garlic, celery, onion, and water. Cook until soft.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to a low simmer.
Cook on low heat, making sure not to burn, until mixture has reduced to a consistency similar to apple sauce. (NOTE: this can be done in a crockpot)
Place sauce in sanitized jars and process with water bath.
Serve with wild game, lamb or other meats. Can be used in wine reduction sauces and baked beans as well.
What recipe brings a “taste of home” to your cooking? Drop a comment below!