Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rhubarb Season

There are many things I love about spring: sunshine, blossoms, sunshine, flowers, sunshine, asparagus, sunshine, longer days (aka sunshine)... but one of my favorites for as long as I can remember, has always been rhubarb.
(Asparagus is a close second, mind you, but to be honest, I really didn't start liking it until I was well out of "childhood", so it doesn't win the all-time favorite award!)

Our rhubarb patch - to the left the two big plants are ones I
bought as starts at the Farmer's Market two years ago.
They're doing well size-wise, but their taste is not good -
dry, stringy and mostly green in color. The other six plants
were transplanted from my Aunt's gorgeous Rhubarb plot up
in Auburn - we hope to be harvesting from them next year!

Rhubarb pies, rhubarb sauce, rhubarb crumbles, rhubarb cake, you name it, I love the chewey, sour brightly colored stalk. I'm lucky enough to have a nearly endless (and at no cost!) supply from my father's garden so I am free for these few months a year to fully indulge my rhubarb fancy.

Now also here in this house, we seem to go through jam/jelly like it's going out of style. I'm talking about a half-pint a week, sometimes more. I thought our freezer had at least two year's worth by the end of last summer with something like 16 jars of strawberry and 23 jars of raspberry, but here we are, the end of May (ie. still weeks away from jelly-making fruit, if it even comes on this year with all this rain we've been getting!), and we have only five left total down in the freezer.

So this year decided to branch out in my modes of rhubarb consumption, and try making rhubarb jam. How could it not be yummy, after all - rhubarb plus sugar? Hard to go wrong, I say!

Turns out my hunches were right on this one, and it is indeed quite delightful. I searched for some time for recipes, and found many (both online and in my mother's voluminous recipe boxes) that actually used a box of red (yes, red, not cherry, not strawberry, but "red") jello. Somehow that just didn't seem right. I ended up going with the recipe from the Ball Blue Book of Canning, which was a Rhubarb-Orange jelly. It has a great rhubarb flavor upfront, but finishes with a hint of orange. I like it!

I adjusted it only slightly - and here's how I did it:

   1.   Washed, trimmed and diced 2 1/2 pounds of fresh rhubarb.

   2.   Juiced enough oranges (in my case 3) to get one cup of fresh OJ.

   3.   Scraped the white pith off about 1/3 of one orange peel, and then cut that into slivers.
The recipe said to slice off all the white - I likened this to
"reverse zesting"!
These are my slivers. I actually went on and
cut these two more times so I'd not end up
with long pieces of zest in the jam.

   4.   Cooked the rhubarb, the OJ, and the zest, covered for about five minutes - until tender and juicy. 
   5.   Added one container of pectin.
   6.   Brought that to a boil
   7.   Added 6c (yes, that's "six") of sugar*

   8.   Stirred it in an brought it to a boil again. Once it was really rolling, I timed it for one full minute.
   9.   Ladelled the jam into clean, hot jars, wiped the lips and sealed them.

   10. The original recipe calls for processing in a water bath at this point for 10 minutes - my plan is to (after 24 hours) move them to the freezer.**

* I wish there was a way to make jam work with less sugar. I make sugar-free varieties of some fruits, using grape or cranberry juice as a sweetener, but I couldn't see how to make that work with this recipe. I don't want to use things like Nutra-sweet or Splend (yucch), but I'd sure love to be able to make my jams set with at least a little less sugar! Anyone out there have any suggestions?
** I find I prefer the fresher taste of freezer jam, though I'm sure it would be fine as canned jam too.

Happy Rhubarb Season to all of you!

In other local news, we had our first picnic of the year down at Meyer's park at the lake. This year we're keeping our canoe right in the storage area by the water, so getting out for a paddle will be easier than ever. The little Bug wouldn't go in the boat on the water, but he did finally get in the canoe while it was laying on the grass and  played around some - hopefully next time we'll get him out for a ride!  

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