Vanilla-Rhubarb Jam

Rhubarb stalks

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.

Chopped rhubarb

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.

10~ cups chopped rhubarb

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.

Into the pot

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.

Cooking rhubarb

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.

Filling jars

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Marmalade Winner!

marmalade-random-number According to the random number generator, the winner of this week’s jar of Orange-Ginger Marmalade is the lovely E. She is an extremely talented baker (you can check our her cakes at Northern Liberties’ A Full Plate Cafe) and blogger (find her at Foodaphilia and The Sugar). Her win is particularly lucky for me, as I’ll be seeing her tonight at the Philly Food Blogger potluck (oh how I love me a good potluck!).

This weekend, depending on what the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market yields, I’ll either be making Pickled Asparagus (using a recipe based on the one in Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling) or Vanilla-Rhubard Jam (recipe plucked from the depths of my brain). If they have both, well then, good times will truly be had by all.

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Canning Diagrams from ‘Girls Can Tell’

canning-diagrams

Canning diagram from Girls Can Tell

As with any good kitchen task, the more seriously you take your canning, the more paraphernalia you can acquire to ease/enhance the process. While I’m relatively low-tech and use an old aluminum pot and regular old kitchen tongs for the bulk of my hot water processing, you can get yourself a nifty pot with a removable rack to make the canning process run more smoothly.

Local Philly artist Sara Selepouchin (who is also a friend of mine) added a new diagram to her Etsy shop today (I featured her Joy of Cooking diagrams on Slashfood several weeks ago) that celebrates the homey beauty of those specialty canning tools. She’s printed this diagram onto dish towels, pot holders, notebooks and canvas tote bags (I bought one to add to my already-bursting supply of reusable grocery bags, I just couldn’t resist) and they’re all available now.

Support an independent artist and buy one for the canner in your life (even if that canner happens to be you)!

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Orange-Ginger Marmalade

oranges-ready-for-chopping

I’ve never been much for marmalade. It wasn’t a condiment we kept around the house while I was growing up. When it came to peanut butter sandwiches, my sister and I preferred the strawberry jam that came in a blue plastic tub with white lid and handle, like a little bucket. My mom always had a stash of something homemade tucked in the back of the fridge for her toast, while my dad typically gravitated towards the squeeze bottle of honey.

Chopping in progress

The only person I knew who kept marmalade on her grocery list was my grandmother Bunny. She would often spread a fine layer on a piece of morning toast, or use a bit as a pork chop glaze. On occasion, she’d offer me a bite, and I always found it displeasingly puckery and not nearly sugary enough for my young taste buds.

Bubbling Marmalade

Several years ago, I watched the movie Gosford Park. There’s one scene, in the final third of the movie, in which Maggie Smith’s character is breakfasting in her room with her lady’s maid. She lifts a cut glass lid from a preserves jar and complains bitterly when she discovers that the marmalade it contains was bought, as opposed to being house-made. That scene settled into the depths of my brain and took root, sending out shoots that carried the message “homemade marmalade is always preferable to mass-produced.”

Filling the jars

Last week, that dormant message finally bloomed and I headed to the kitchen to make a batch of Orange-Ginger Marmalade. I did some research prior to applying knife to orange and discovered a wide array of marmalade recipes. Each was a bit different from the one before. Some recommended removing the zest from the fruit with a vegetable peeler, peeling the remaining pith off and then chopping, while other recipes instructed you to chop the whole fruit. After reading seven different recipes, I decided to wing it, basing my method on my previous jam-making experience.

Filling a jar

I chopped eleven medium, organic oranges into tiny bits (they yielded a bit over eight cups of orange) and combined them with four cups of sugar, two inches of grated ginger (next time, I’d use far more, as the flavor is very faint) and the juice of two lemons. I ended up using one packet of liquid pectin to get things to jell a bit, but if you happened to have some cheesecloth in the house, you could bundle up all the seeds and orange membrane and cook it along with the fruit, as there’s a lot of natural pectin in the seeds. I didn’t have any cheesecloth (I used up the last of mine on a yogurt cheese experiment a few weeks ago), so in went the pectin.

Jars in hot water bath

The resulting marmalade is sweet, but not cloyingly so. The chunks of orange peel are a bit more toothsome than I find to be ideal, but they add good flavor and texture, so I don’t regret their inclusion (in the future, I’ll try for an even finer dice). I do wish the ginger flavor was more aggressive, next time I make this, I’m going to mince it instead of grating it, and will use a generous three or four-inch length. However, all in all, I’ve produced a really delicious spread that is perfect on toast, scones or stirred into a dish of cottage cheese.

Sealed jars

For those of you who want to taste my marmalade, I’m giving away a half-pint. Leave a comment below if you want a chance at it. I’ll pick a random winner out on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12 noon. For those of you who don’t win, the recipe is after the jump. This contest is now closed.

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Note to Self – Remember the Okra

Fried Okra

I’ve been in Austin, TX for the SXSW Interactive conference over the last few days, so I’ve been running hither and yon, attending sessions about things like Misogyny on the Internet and Is Online Privacy Broken. It’s been a fascinating whirlwind, although I’m looking forward to getting back to home and routine tomorrow night.

Last week, I made a batch of Orange-Ginger Marmalade, but I’m finding that I can’t quite muster the mental organization to write about it, especially when my meals have been consisting of things like barbecue ribs at Iron Works and an amazing Tex-Mex dip that consists of queso (melted Velveeta and Rotel tomatoes*) poured over a mound of guacamole.

However, I did want to mention the fried okra I ate last night, at a lovely restaurant on 6th Street called Parkside. Everything I tasted there was absolutely delicious, but the fried okra continues to linger on my palate-brain and it has me convinced that I need to incorporate okra into the canned vegetable rotation in the coming season. I’ve always been one of those who shied away from okra, fearful of it’s mucus-like reputation, but after Parkside’s okra, I am converted. I know that Rick’s Picks makes a pickled okra (and it’s a product with a loyal following), but now I’m going to be on the prowl for a recipe to do it at home. Anyone have any suggestions?

*It is one of my goals to can a batch of homemade tomatoes in the Rotel style (chopped with roasted jalepenos) over the summer/fall canning season. Hold me to it!

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Waiting and planning

doughnut-peaches

Last year, my approach to food preservation was totally haphazard. I made blueberry and blackberry jam, because those are the things I like to eat or give as gifts. I froze several pints of grape tomatoes on cookie sheets, because they were threatening to become over-ripe before I had a chance to eat them. I intended to do more with peaches, nectarines and the spinach from a local farmer, but each time, I turned my head for (what seemed like only) a moment and missed the season.

This year I hope to plan better, to can tomatoes for the winter and have slices of nectarines tucked away in the freezer for February smoothies. I’m preparing now, gathering jars (oh jars!) and lids, studying the charts that indicate seasonal ripeness from my favorite U-Pick and making arrangements to teach a few canning classes as Foster’s (because what better motivation is there for preparedness than the commitment to stand in front of strangers and talk?).

I’m looking forward to the coming weeks, when the asparagus begins to pop through the surface of the soil and offers its tender tips for steaming (and pickling). I’m dreaming of a small stash of green garlic pesto tucked away for a dark chilly night and of offering friends and family jars of sour cherry preserves for the holidays.

For now I’ll wait, make a batch of marmalade and imagine.

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