Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rhubarb Jam

I love my rhubarb plants. They require very little of me, but provide so much! I like that rhubarb is one of the first things up in the spring garden, and that it grows so quickly. Marian Owen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul loves rhubarb as well, and writes about it here. And if you would like to read what I wrote about rhubarb two years ago, click here.

My husband and sons like to pick and eat the stalks raw, but like most people, I prefer the cooked version. I usually just made rhubarb pie, but now that it is just me and Chuck at home, a pie seems like a dietary extravagance neither he nor I can afford. My older son loves tart jams, though, and so in the past couple of years I started making rhubarb jam. His birthday is next week, so I made him a batch of jam to celebrate.

This recipe is adapted from the one at The Rhubarb Compendium. Most of the recipes found there include strawberries or other fruit, or use jello as a setting agent. My family prefers purity, so I have not added anything else in past years. However, rhubarb doesn't reliably set up in jams, so I tried an experiment this year.
Rhubarb Jam- fills about 6 half pint jars
2.5 pounds rhubarb
1 large lemon
2.5 c sugar
1 box powdered pectin
red food coloring if desired

Wash the rhubarb, and cut the stems into small pieces*. Place in a stock pot. Grate the entire lemon peel into the rhubarb, and the cut in half and squeeze lemon juice over the rhubarb. Don't worry about the lemon seeds going into the mixture- you can pick them out later. Cooking them with the rest provides additional pectin.
Add 2.5 cups of sugar and the pectin. Mix the rhubarb and sugar before turning on heat.

Cook the rhubarb, stirring frequently, until most of the pieces have turned to mush. Add food coloring now if you plan to do so. When I made the first batch for my son, he told me that the flavor was great, but it was not especially attractive. (Sort of a greenish tan color.) He told me if I added some color, my daughter-in-law might eat it. Now I make it a sort of deep red with a cake icing food coloring. My son has not complained, although I have not heard if my daughter-in-law is eating it or not.

When the jam looks right, I test to see if the pectin is ready. Do this by putting a saucer in the freezer, and then dripping some of the jam onto the saucer. If it congeals into a solid-ish mass, it is ready. However, this isn't super-reliable, and my jams tend to be soft as you can see in the picture below.

This is very tart, but the rhubarb flavor doesn't stand out as I would like. My husband says that our rhubarb is very mild tasting. We have 2 plants, one producing red stems, and one producing green stems with a red blush. I may start looking for a third plant with a greater rhubarb bite.

*I had the great idea that I would grind the rhubarb up as we did with the grapes for wine this year. Rhubarb is stringy. Stringy things do not grind well- I got a lovely lot of rhubarb juice and a congested, clotted grinder after only 4 or 5 stalks. I went back to chopping after that.