This was one of those joyful kitchen moments when I had an idea of what something should be and it all turned out just as I had hoped. I am very much an everyday cook, learning as I go, and not given to moments of culinary genius. But oh this jam is good. I don't mean to blow my own trumpet, but really it is.
My father in law gave me 2 kg of rhubarb from his allotment (it was just going to waste!) and so my first thought was jam and my second was pie. I've made rhubarb and ginger jam before, and rhubarb and strawberry but wanted something different. Then I remembered how well custard goes with rhubarb and thought about adding some vanilla to the fruit. The sweet vanilla, which can be a little sickly when paired with other less sharp fruits, is perfect with the rhubarb's tartness. It's a very happy mixture of flavours. I used 1 kg of the fruit to make the jam (my stock pot won't really hold more - I think I need to invest in a proper jam making pan) and chopped and froze the other half for future pies and crumbles. I love to see lots of little bags of fruit in my freezer, all lined up, labelled and ready to go.
To make the jam I used:
1 kg rhubarb
1 kg preserving or jam sugar
2 vanilla pods or two generous teaspoons of vanilla paste
I prefer to use jam or preserving sugar - which is just white sugar with added pectin - but you might prefer to use ordinary sugar and add your own pectin, or not add the pectin at all. I have had too many cross moments in the kitchen with jam that refuses to set so I like to use jam sugar. Also, I found vanilla paste much easier to use than fresh vanilla pods as the liquid surrounding the seeds helped them distribute more evenly throughout the fruit.
This amount of fruit filled about five standard size 275 ml or half pint jam jars.
- Make sure your jars are sterilised and ready to go.*
- Put a saucer in the freezer.
- If you are using vanilla pods, split them and scrape out the seeds and put to one side.
- Wash and chop the rhubarb into 2 cm or 1 inch pieces.
- Put the fruit, sugar and vanilla into the jam pan and stir it really well so that all the rhubarb is covered in sugar and vanilla. Ideally you want to leave this for a few hours so that all the flavours have a chance to get to know each other, but you could just start cooking if you have less time.
- Slowly bring the mixture to the boil then let it bubble away.
- After 15 or 20 minutes, start to check for setting point. Take your saucer from the freezer and put a small dollop of jam on the saucer. Give it a few moments to cool and set, then push your finger through it. If it wrinkles, then it's ready. If it's still runny then it needs longer.
- When you are satisfied that your jam is ready, remove it from the heat and leave it to cool slightly, say 10 minutes. Skim off any scum and then pour into your waiting jars. A jam funnel helps enormously here!
It's pleasing to look at too, a soft pinky-peach colour with tiny black flecks. Then my favourite bit - jam tops and labels. The fabric jar toppers let me indulge my country kitchen fantasies of AGAs and Welsh dressers. I experimented with a butterfly hole punch here - it would be great if I could find a fruity themed hole punch, I wonder if you can buy them.
I was also hoping to pick your brains; I want to make a gift each for Angus and Bella' s teachers. We have seven weeks until the end of term so I think I've got time. They are both women, in their early thirties I would guess, and I don't think the whole country/granny chic thing would really be to their taste. What could I make them that they would like and wouldn't go in the crazy handmade parent gift pile for the charity shop? Edibles like jam, fudge, cakes? Something crocheted or knitted? Something sewn? Any ideas would be very gratefully received. Thank you!
* I wrote about sterilising your jars here should you want more information.