Sadly, rhubarb season is just about to end. Before it does, however, here is a simple recipe that is worth making the time to try in the next few weeks, and hopefully that you will want to add to your repertoire for next year.
I admit I really never cooked with rhubarb up until a few years ago. My husband is crazy about this sour vegetable (although most of us consider it a fruit), especially when combined with lots of sugar and strawberries in a homey pie.
Although I do love pie, I also enjoy canning throughout the year and thought making some jam would be a good way to introduce myself to this ingredient. I started traditionally and prepared a perfectly acceptable jam simply with fresh rhubarb and sugar. I found using equal amounts of each (by weight), as is typical with many jam and preserve recipes, was just right here; the rhubarb is, of course, quite tart and needs the sugar to subdue and soften its bite.
Then I began experimenting and discovered a mixture of a few ingredients that elevated my simple jam to a sweet treat that, although still simple, was deliciously layered with flavor. A mere pinch of salt, some finely chopped crystallized ginger, and a spoonful of vanilla complemented the tart vegetable with a bit of sweetness, heat, and fruity depth. Not one to wait to taste my kitchen trials, I found the jam was delicious warm right off the stove. Perhaps the best part about this recipe, however, is that as the jam sits in the refrigerator over a period of days, the flavors soften and intermingle in a way that makes the final product at once more delicate and complex.
Initially, the vanilla, in particular, is quite pronounced. Over time, however, it softens and becomes a perfume-like, graceful note that, in fact, you might not even detect as vanilla at all. I used Madagascar vanilla extract here, but I think Mexican would be delicious, too. The latter tends to be a bit gentler and its fruit personality more pronounced.
I hope you try this recipe. If you like rhubarb as much as my family do, you’ll be glad to have it stored in your refrigerator when, in the weeks to come, it will comfort you when rhubarb season is long past.
Makes about 2 3/4 cups
1 pound cleaned and trimmed rhubarb (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 pounds untrimmed)
1 pound sugar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the rhubarb, sugar, water, ginger, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir several times over medium-low heat until the sugar begins to melt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the jam becomes thick and falls in sheets from the side of the spoon, about 20 to 25 minutes. When the jam is ready, it will register between 215°F and 220°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the jam from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour into sterilized jars, leaving about 1/4 inch at the rims, and seal tightly with the lids. Carefully invert the jars for about 10 seconds (to create a proper vacuum), before setting them right-sides-up on a rack to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.