For many years I confess that I have had one major food fear: canning. Canning seems like an activity worthy of only a chef well experienced in gourmet food or a medical exert well practiced in sterilization techniques. And I can attest that I am, unfortunately, neither one.
Canning, however, is an absolutely wonderful way to preserve local, seasonal produce. There is absolutely nothing that can compare to a juicy strawberry picked at the height of summer or a tangy rhubarb stalk harvested in early spring. These are the gems we wait all year for. That is unless you practice canning. Canning allows you to preserve these seasonal delicacies at the peak of their deliciousness so they can be enjoyed year round! How can anyone resist that? All right, so I decided that it was high time I conquered my irrational fear of canning. And let me tell you, the reward was sweet. Quite literally!
As it turns out, canning is not nearly as frightening as it seems. From start to finish, the process took only an hour and the steps could not be any simpler.
1) Prepare the jam.
2) Immerse the empty jars and lids in boiling water for 10 minutes to sterilize.
3) Fill and seal the jars.
4) Return the jars to boiling water for another 10 minutes.
Voilà! What could be easier? All you need is a pot large enough to hold your jars and some towels to clean up the mess (the water and jam tend to enjoy jumping out of their pots as they boil).
Honestly, if I had known that the process was this simple, I would have started canning years ago. I cannot believe I have been missing out on this insanely delicious rhubarb jam!
Sweet and tart are in the perfect proportion in this wonderful jam. The rhubarb taste is present but not overpowering; it offers a bright tangy note to the vanilla-hinted sweetness. A delicious flavor accomplished by only a few simple ingredients. Eat it on toast, pancakes, crackers…the options are endless!
And with a plethora of home-grown rhubarb in our garden, I am seeing many more rhubarb jams in the future. What is next? Rhubarb with strawberry? Raspberry? Orange? In any case, the future looks, bright, tangy, and delicious!
Vanilla Rhubarb Jam
Slightly adapted from Food in Jars
Yield: 2 pints
4 cups rhubarb, chopped
2 cups sugar
3-4 teaspoons powdered pectin
¼ cup water
½ lemon, zested and juiced
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Prepare a boiling water bath with four half-pint (or two pint) jars. Place lids in a small saucepan over very low heat to simmer while you make the jam (jars and lids must sterilize for at least 10 minutes).
Whisk sugar and pectin together in a small mixing bowl.
In a large, non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enameled cast iron), combine rhubarb, sugar/pectin mixture and water. Bring to a simmer and add the lemon zest and juice. Let it bubble gently for about ten minutes over fairly high heat, stirring regularly.
After approximately ten minutes of cooking, test the set of the jam by dipping a spoon in the mixture and watching how the jam runs off the edge. If the droplets are thick, running together and seeming reluctant to drop off the spoon, the jam is done (note: the jam with set more as it cools). Stir in vanilla extract. Adjust flavors to your personal preference, adding more lemon juice if additional brightening is needed.
Pour jam into hot jars, running a spatula along the sides of the jar to remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar rims clean and apply lids/rings. Process in a hot water bath for ten minutes (don’t start your timer until the water returns to a boil).
Remove jars from water and let cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove the rings, test the seals and label the jars. Store them in a cool, dark place for up to a year.