Every year around this time, I find myself feeling out of the loop and a bit frustrated. It seems like all the other food bloggers are surrounded by a bounty of fresh rhubarb and are proudly flaunting their mouthwatering rhubarb creations, while I remain pathetically rhubarb-less. I’m not sure why, but I rarely ever find fresh rhubarb in my local markets. And, the once in a while that I do stumble upon some, it’s always just a few sad, little, washed out stalks that, honestly, I’d be embarrassed to put in my shopping cart. So imagine my near delirium when I was placing my weekly order with SunCoast Organics and saw that rhubarb was on the list. I ordered two pounds. Squeeeeee!
In anticipation of receiving my booty, I scoured the above mentioned bloggers’ sites for some rhubarb inspiration. Since I have very little experience with the this reedy Rheum rhabarbarum, I wanted to explore its possibilities. I also wanted to choose a recipe that would give me the most bang for my buck, as I didn’t know when I would find it again (and also because it was $5.00 a pound). All of the rhubarb pies, tarts and galettes looked tempting, but short-lived. A few bites, and they’re gone. Yes people, pastry is fleeting, but jam, on the other hand, is forever – or at least a lot more long lasting. So, I decided to turn my rhubarb into a jam that could be spread on hot, fresh bread, added to chutneys and morphed into an assortment of luscious baked goods.
Although used more frequently in desserts, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. On their own, the fibrous stalks are quite sour, with a sharp bite. Think of a very tart stalk of celery and you’ll get the idea. But, cook it with sugar and various fruits, and it is transformed. The most popular rhubarb pairing is with strawberries, as in strawberry rhubarb pie. I thought about making a strawberry rhubarb jam, but that was too predictable for me. Dare to be different, I always say! Okay, I actually don’t always say that, but I do think it sometimes. and, this was one of those times. Besides, my market had a multitude of other berries on sale, so I grabbed some juicy, ripe blackberries and raspberries along with the strawberries and went home to make jam.
I found several yummy looking rhubarb berry jam recipes online, and adapted a few to come up with one that worked for me. Though I’m pretty much a jam-making novice, I find the whole process to be pretty easy. My apple butter experiment a few months ago was a great success. And, once before that, I made the most marvelous raspberry jam completely by accident when a batch of pate de fruit didn’t set up properly. All you really need are some good ingredients, canning jars and time.
To start, you need to prep your rhubarb. I peeled all of the woody, outside parts off and sliced mine into small pieces.
Then, rinse and drain the fresh berries. You can use frozen berries if you want. I never have, so I can’t tell you much about that.
After that, it’s time to cook all that rhubarb and fruit down with lots of sugar until it becomes a thick, rich, intensely flavored jam. David Lebovitz uses apple juice instead of commercial pectin products to thicken his jams, as apples contain a high concentration of natural pectin. Since I forgot to buy pectin and had some apple juice in my fridge, I went with that.
It took about forty-five minutes for my rhubarb and berries to become jam. All I did was let them bubble on the stove until they were a thick, pulpy puree.
While the jam was cooking, jelling and cooling, I whipped up a batch of my favorite English muffin bread to go with it. Just look at all those nooks and crannies! Sooooo good!
Honestly, this was probably one of the best jams I have ever tasted. I am completely besotted with it! It was so rich and lush! The combination of berries gave it a deep, dark, sweet flavor, and the rhubarb added just the perfect amount of tartness. My family absolutely loved it, as did the select few I chose to share it with. And I must say, I was pretty stingy with the sharing.
I decided not to process my jam in a water bath because I wasn’t making a huge amount and I knew it would be scarfed down consumed pretty quickly. The jam should keep well in the fridge for at least a month. I kept a few pints for us to spread on toast, croissants, etc., and the rest was turned into some scrumptious rhubarb-berry crumble bars and a smoky, spicy chutney.
So let me tell you people, if you’ve never made homemade jam, you’re really missing out. Aside from the fact that homemade jam tastes out of this world, the satisfaction of knowing that you made it yourself feels so great. And, most folks don’t realize how easy jam is to make, so all of your friends and family will think you’re a regular Martha Stewart when you gift them with a jar (if you can bear to part with any).
As for me? I’m so thrilled that I finally got my grubby little pars on that beautiful, fresh rhubarb! Now, I can hold my head up high again in the food blogosphere. I am a rhubarb outcast no longer. My life is complete!
Rhubarb Berry Jam
2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
6 cups mixed berries, fresh or frozen
1 cup apple juice
4-5 cups sugar depending on the sweetness of the berries
Juice of one lemon
Pinch of salt
Mix all of the ingredients together in a large, deep stainless steel or copper pot (not aluminum). Let macerate for about 10 minutes. Put a small plate in the freezer to test the jam for doneness later.
Bring fruit mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim off any foam that forms on top and discard. Reduce heat and continue to cook at a vigorous simmer, uncovered, until the jam has thickened. This should take about 30-40 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent it from burning on the bottom.
After 30 minutes, remove the plate from the freezer and place a small spoonful of the jam on it. Wait 30 seconds and run your finger through the jam to check its consistency. If it isn’t thick enough, continue simmering a while longer, then test it again.
When the jam has reached the desired thickness, remove from the heat and ladle into clean, sterilized jars. Cover and store in the refrigerator if you plan to use the jam within a month. If not, you can process the jars in a hot water bath for longer preservation.
Yields 6 one cup jars.