Monday, June 13, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves

'Cause it ain't jam. Stephen, of the fabulous Stephen Saiz Salon on Union Square in San Francisco is so excited about "putting things up." He says he's never done it before. A fantastic cook, it's probably the only thing he hasn't tried. If he invites you for dinner say yes. If he starts talking about something he made recently start taking notes.

 He loved the Strawberry Rhubarb Jam; I found it cloyingly sweet. So I tried again. By now you all know I can't leave well enough alone in the recipe least I'm not as bad as my Aunt Nini who thought "If a little fertilizer is good, a lot will be better" and fried her entire garden. 

So before the strawberry and rhubarb seasons are over, I tried again. With less sugar. Bliss. 

If you're an experienced jam maker you can skip to the recipe. But for Stephen, and everyone else who's not made real cooked jam before, here are the details.
Get the best ripe strawberries you can find. Think Farmer's Market, roadside stand. Not grocery store. 

Rinse the berries. Halve them if they are small, quarter them if they're ginormous. 
Before we go any further I should tell you this is easier with a few pieces of equipment. That's the bad news. The good news is they're not expensive or hard to find, and they don't take up much room when you're not using them. And they won't go out of fashion, unlike that pair of orange platform shoes I'm thinking about...

You will need:
A jar rack - to hold the jars when they go in a big pot full of boiling water. It's called a water bath. You probably already have a big pot - you can put a cake rack or a dish towel on the bottom to keep the glass jars from contact with the bottom of the pot, but it's a pain, and if you're gonna get serious (and you're gonna get serious, I promise) get the right tools.

A canning funnel. I use mine every day. Today I used it to put roasted nuts in a quart jar. I store everything in glass (you did read that post, right?) and trust me this makes putting things in jars a pleasure not a juggling act. Get one even if you're not gonna jam.

A pair of jar tongs, the funny things with the black handles. For lifting the finished jars out of the water bath. A few dish towels folded on the counter and you're on your way. You already have a ladle, right? 

I use the potato masher to smash the berries a little more, but you can skip this step.
Cut the tops and bottoms off the rhubarb...
...and cut into cubes.
Measure the fruit, add the lemon juice. 

Dump into a big heavy-bottomed pot. This can more than double in volume when it's boiling. I use a copper 8 quart pan. (you don't have to take notes - the recipe is all in one place below. You're welcome.)

Add the butter - this helps keep the foam down. So does using fully ripe fruit.
In a small bowl stir 1/4 cup sugar into the low-sugar pectin 
Mix this into the fruit in the kettle (don't you love that word?)
Over high heat stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil. That's a boil you can't stir down. Add the sugar...

...and bring back to a rolling boil. Boil for exactly one minute, then ladle into hot jars, leaving about 1/4 inch headroom. 
I use clean well-rinsed rubber gloves to handle the hot jars - more about the jars later.
Wipe the rims clean with a damp paper towel

and screw on two-piece lids - fairly tight, you don't want them leaking in the water bath! Place the jars in the rack
and lower into the boiling water bath and process for ten minutes. This means the water should be gently boiling for ten minutes. It may take a few minutes for the water to return to the boil when you put the jars in - don't start the timer until the water returns to a boil.

Remove from the water bath either by lifting out the whole rack (I find these silicone mitts are great for that) 
or by using the tongs to fish them out one at a time.
Set the hot jars on a towel - a cool granite counter can cause the jars to crack.

A few notes about timing: I start the big pot for the water bath about an hour before I start chopping fruit. I also put the jars in the dishwasher then - by the time your jam is ready the jars should be clean and hot, and the water bath boiling away.

Before you put the jars in the dishwasher remove the lids and rings. Pour boiling water over the lids and let them sit until you're ready to use them. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves

6 cups smashed strawberries
2 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch cubes
juice of one lemon
1 box low sugar pectin
4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon butter

Measure the fruit, add the lemon juice and butter, and place into a big heavy-bottomed pot. (I use a copper 8 quart pot) 

In a small bowl stir 1/4 cup sugar into the low-sugar pectin, then stir in to the fruit.

Over high heat stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil. Add the sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil exactly one minute, remove from heat and ladle into hot jars. Screw on lids, water bath for ten minutes.

Makes about 10 or 11 half pints. You won't want to share. You might think about chopping and freezing some rhubarb for later, the grocery stores carry frozen strawberries for when you get desperate but not rhubarb.

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