During the years I was in middle school, my family lived in a house just off Canyon Drive, in SW Portland. It was an isolating neighborhood, without sidewalks and with very few kids of similar age. One of the few things the house had going for it was the fact that it had an enormous yard (more than a quarter of an acre) that had been carefully tended during the sixties and seventies by a botanist.
The back yard was dotted with interesting trees (many of them fruit-bearing) and shrubs, featured a row multi-colored lilac trees (forever endearing me to those springtime flowers) and had a hidden rhubarb patch right up against the neighbor’s fence. Each spring, the refrigerator would fill up with vibrant, pink stalks, as my dad felt it was his duty to harvest all edible items from the yard. My mom would try to keep up with the bounty, but the sheer volume would overwhelm her and bags of the rhubarb would get passed out to neighbors and co-workers.
Now I mourn for all the rhubarb that we didn’t use and dream about a life that includes a prolific rhubarb patch, as it is one of my favorite spring treats. I love the fresh, apple-y scent it has when you cut into it, and I adore the electricity of its color. After a winter of dark greens and root vegetables, seeing that vivid pink on the cutting board feels like salvation.
Unfortunately, rhubarb doesn’t actually appear to be in season in the Philadelphia-area quite yet, so I broke down and made this jam with stalks from Washington State (I give my local produce store credit for having the origin so clearly marked). The first batch I made didn’t set particularly well after 24 hours, so I made another round, only to have that one become nearly solid (I used a full package of Sure-Jell powdered pectin that time and remembered why I don’t like it). I found that with refrigeration, the first batch finally firmed up a bit and achieved a really nice, if slightly loose texture. That’s the recipe I’ve included here. If you like your jam a bit firmer, use two packets of liquid pectin instead of one and skip the Sure-Jell.
And, of course, I’ll be giving away a half-pint of this jam to one lucky person. If you want a chance to be the winner, leave a comment (and if you feel so moved, share any rhubarb memories you might have). I’ll pick a winner on Friday, March 27th at 12 noon and post/Twitter the lucky individual sometime shortly after that. The recipe is after the jump.
- 10 cups of chopped rhubarb (approximately 2 1/2 pounds of stalks)
- 5 cups sugar
- 1 cup brewed Earl Grey tea
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- pinch of salt
- 1 packet liquid pectin (Ball brand is preferred)
- Sterilize your jars in a large pot of boiling water. If you're making refrigerator jam (it will keep nicely unprocessed in the fridge for 2-3 months), skip this step.
- In a 5-quart, non-reactive pot, bring the rhubarb, sugar and tea to a boil.
- Add the vanilla bean, lemon and salt to the pot and let it bubble gently for about ten minutes (on my stove, this means I set it to medium-high).
- After ten minutes have elapsed, add the pectin, stir to combine and let cook for a few more minutes.
- At this point, dip a spoon in the jam and see how it coats the back of the spoon. If you get a nice, even sheet, the jam is done. You can also taste at this point, to see if you like the balance of flavors. Add a little more lemon juice if you feel it needs additional brightening.
- Pour into hot jars, wide mouth and rings to remove any spillage and apply lids/rings.
- Process in a hot water bath for ten minutes.
- Remove from water and let cool.