Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Marriage Made In Heaven

I’ve been making jam since Neva Westfall taught us how in 7th grade Home Economics class (another time and place, dear).  The boys took wood shop and I’m pretty sure they’re not still wood-shopping their little hearts out.  At least for the sake of their home decor, I hope not.

But I still make jam and jelly - cranberry and pomegranate jellies in the winter, peach jam with a hint of nutmeg at the height of summer.  Blood orange marmalade from the oranges we grow  - organic, of course.  (See my post on marmalade for the recipe.  And the how-to.)  

But I have never had the reaction to anything I make that I get to the strawberry rhubarb jam.  

“Best Thing I’ve Ever Put In My Mouth” a dear friend says.  “Awesome!” says Liberty, my youngest cooking pal.   I’ve had calls from friends, from 8 to 88, asking if there is any left, if they can have just one more jar.  

Fat red strawberries, sweet with a hint of tartness to keep them from being sappy, and thick red stalks of rhubarb have been at Lunardi’s (and in the farmer’s markets) for a few weeks, but they’re almost over.  And while you can find strawberries (of uncertain quality) later in the season and in the freezer all year, rhubarb is leaving.  You can’t make this jam without it, and I was disappointed with the quality of jam made with the rhubarb I chopped and froze last year.  Thought I could outfox mother nature.  Not.

I dare you not to eat it with a spoon.   Double dare.

So before Strawberry and Rhubarb seasons are over (and isn’t it nice the seasons coincide?) I am making enough strawberry rhubarb jam to have on my toast, and to share.  And just because I think it would be great over ice cream, but the jam sets up hard and fast, I am making a strawberry rhubarb compote.  Inspired by David Lebovitz’s blog.  Check it out.  His recipe is way more complicated, I am in love with mine.

It’s basically jam without the pectin, and since I’m not worrying about it setting I cut back on the sugar - part of rhubarb’s charm is its tartness.  I’m thinking over home-made vanilla ice cream, or a spoonful stirred into a  tall glass of soda water on a hot summer day, sipped by the pool (or in the pool if it’s really hot).

So here are the two recipes:

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

You will need half-pint canning jars, a water-bath canner and a canning rack (or a towel on the bottom of the pot, but that's complicated) for this recipe.  Jar tongs and long silicone potholder/gloves help too.  Check out the photos on my marmalade post.  Oh, and a heavy-bottomed pot to cook the jam.

4 cups diced rhubarb - just the red part, not the leafy bits
4 cups ripe strawberries, hulled (that means cut off the top leafy bit)
4 cups sugar, divided
1 box Sure-Jell No Sugar Needed Pectin (pink box)
1/2 teaspoon butter - not margarine.  Throw that stuff away.

Before you start, wash and sterilize (I run them thru the dishwasher) 8 or 9 half pint jars with two part lids - canning jars.  Separate the lids and rings, cover the lids with boiling water.  Set the rings aside.  And put your water-bath canner on to heat.  I start with the hottest tap water I can get, you're not cooking pasta, you're not eating the water, so who cares?   And it cuts down on the time it takes to come to a boil.  
I start the canner before I start chopping fruit.  Don't start cooking the jam until the water in the canner is boiling!!!  It takes a lot longer than you think, and you don't want the jam to cool or it won't process properly.  Plus you could end up with one huge congealed mass of strawberry rhubarb stuck in the pot.  Not pretty.
Chop the rhubarb, hull the strawberries (see the little leafy tops? Cut them off and throw them in the compost.)

In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the sugar into the pectin.  Put this and the strawberries and rhubarb into a big heavy pot (Dutch oven sized, this will boil up), mix in the pectin and crush the strawberries a bit with a potato masher.

Add the little bit of butter - this will help keep the jam from foaming.  With apologies to Ferran Adria of El Bulli, I'm looking for jam, not molecular gastronomy.  
Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil - a boil that can't be stirred down.  Pour in the remaining sugar, bring back to a rolling boil and boil for Exactly One Minute.  No more, no less.
Immediately ladle into hot clean dry jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.   Wipe the tops and threads of the jars, top with lids, screw on the rings and hand-tighten. Firmly.  

Put jars in a canning rack and lower into water bath.  Process for 10 minutes.

Remove jars, place on a towel (if you put them on granite or marble they may crack). and let cool.  The lids should suck down with a ping!  Store any jars that don't seal (there won't be any) in the fridge and use them first.
Eat.  Share.  Make more.
Makes about 8 half pint jars

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

4 cups diced rhubarb - just the red part, not the leafy bits
4 cups ripe strawberries, hulled (that means cut off the top leafy bit)
3 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon butter - not margarine.  Throw that stuff away.

Prepare jars and water bath as above.  

Put strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot.  Bring to a rolling boil, boil for about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened but still quite runny (it gets thicker as it cools) and remove from heat.

Fill jars and water-bath as above.

Makes about 8 half-pint jars.

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