Cloudy….windy….rainy…..50 degrees……seems like perfect weather to me for making Rhubarb Jam!
Rhubarb remains one of those mysterious plants. A quick google search brings up a long history of rhubarb around the world. Historically, the dried root aided in curing a number of illnesses. It seems that it wasn’t until sometime in the 1800’s that it entered into culinary dishes. Some websites tout that Benjamin Franklin brought the first rhubarb to America where others claim that a farmer in Maine carried the first plant from Europe. Needless to say, rhubarb has a long history which stretches the globe.
I remember as a child hearing my grandmother rant and rave over rhubarb. She grew up in New England where rhubarb thrived in the cool temperatures of the early spring. As a child I thought what could possibly be appealing about a sour tasting stalk with a deadly leaf on the end of it? Then, when I was in my mid twenties, we moved to Vermont where rhubarb abounded in gardens, abandoned fields, and in nearly every back yard. Living in town, we shared a garden plot with some friends. An elderly woman named Hester lived behind our garden and her small garden plot backed up to ours separated by a fence. I marveled at her garden-the lack of weeds, and the abundance of produce from such a small area. We would talk through the fence as we both worked with hoes in hand. She coached me as I planted each seed instructing me on how far apart to plant them and how to care for them. One day, she asked if I would like a cutting from her rhubarb plant. I couldn’t turn her down as that would seem unappreciative so I politely accepted with the agreement that she would provide me with some recipes. She drove her shovel into the soil and after a few minutes passed a healthy looking rhubarb cutting over the fence to me. Hester helped me decide where to plant it in the garden and told me how to nurture it along. As I waited for my plant to grow, Hester provided me with arm fulls of fresh rhubarb from her plants. Suddenly, I found my kitchen counters full of her rhubarb-the very plant that I disliked as a child.
I began looking in every cookbook I had for recipes, determined to figure out the attraction to this strange vegetable. Hester provided me with a few recipes as well and so my journey began with rhubarb. The search for recipes became addicting and soon I found that Rhubarb Pie with a hint of orange tasted amazing as did Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, Rhubarb Chutney, Rhubarb Upside Down Cake, and Rhubarb Crisp. A year later, we bought a 200 year old cape just outside of town. It must have been the only house in Vermont that did not have rhubarb growing on the property. I proudly dug up my rhubarb plant from Hester to take with me. Soon in my new home, I had three large plants which thrived and grew beyond belief. I offered cuttings to almost everyone I knew that gardened and made sure they had recipes in hand if they were unfamiliar with the plant. We stayed in that house for 16 years and upon leaving that home to move to our current location, Grand View Farm, I brought three cuttings with me.
My children grew up knowing all about rhubarb as I cultivated their interest in the plant from an early age. As toddlers, they could be seen walking through the garden wearing a large rhubarb leaf as a hat while chewing on the sour stalk. They loved my Rhubarb Pie after dinner and Rhubarb Jam on their morning toast. Making jam became a yearly ritual with my children helping to pick the rhubarb and chop it. The past few years, my schedule has gotten so crazy that I have not found time to make jam with the rhubarb. Today, seemed the perfect day for making jam and restoring that tradition in our home.
- 4 cups chopped rhubarb
- 2 cups of evaporated cane juice (or white sugar)
- 2 tablespoons of crystallized ginger
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- Put all ingredients into a heavy stainless steel pot-stirring constantly, bring to a boil.
- Continue to cook and stir over medium high heat until it thickens and holds its shape in the middle of a large spoon or until it reaches 220 degrees.
- Ladle into sterilized canning jars.
- Put on the lids and process for 10 minutes in a boiling bath.