I finally feel that I’ve mastered strawberry rhubarb jam. A technique from Jeanne Lesem’s Preserving Today, an early 1990s book, did the trick. She claimed that she was documenting tradition while updating techniques (and may I say, the amount of sugar, thank heavens). I wrote about this two years ago and decided it was time for a re-run. I am a small batch canner, preferring to vary the ingredients than to produce cases of the same thing. This approach makes for good gift giving, and since I typically use 4-ounce jars, it creates great tasting portions. Nothing’s worse in my book than a refrigerator full of half-used jars. It tells me they were too big.
Since I’m not partial to strawberry jam in the first place, I like to combine the berries with other ingredients. Therefore: strawberry-currant jam, strawberry jam with balsamic vinegar, strawberry jam with Pinot Noir, strawberry jam with chipotle chili powder, and strawberry jam with black pepper (two winners). Since one of my family members is particularly fond of strawberry-rhubarb jam, I indulge him by making it straight up. But then I couldn’t help myself. I added cardamom to one batch, as I did a few years ago, and orange peel to the other. I think oranges and rhubarb make a great combo, and they both mitigate the slightly cloying character of cooked strawberries. I made a strawberry-rhubarb-orange marmalade this year, which I promise I’ll post when I’ve perfected the recipe.
After macerating layers of strawberries and rhubarb in sugar for about 6 hours, the mixture is boiled rapidly for 4 minutes, which breaks down the fruit’s fiber. Once cool, the mixture is refrigerated overnight, plumping up the fruit. This is Lesem’s contribution to the technique and it works very well. The next day, you drain the juice from the fruit and boil it for a few minutes. Add back the fruit and boil until the jam is set. The consistency of jam made this way is great in that it preserves the character and consistency of the fruit itself.
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam technique adapted from Jeanne Lesem
1 qt strawberries (heaping quart)
½ lb rhubarb (2-3 stalks)
1¾ c sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Clean and hull the strawberries. Clean and dice the rhubarb into ½-inch pieces. Layer both with sugar a glass bowl, adding the lemon juice along the way. Cover and let sit for 6 hours.
Pour the ingredients into a shallow braising pan and bring to a boil, cooking it rapidly for 4 minutes. Remove to a heatproof glass bowl and let cool. When cooled, cover the bowl and let the mixture sit overnight.
Prepare the canning jars and set a saucer in the freezer for testing the jam.
Drain the juice from the berries and rhubarb, reserving the fruit, and bring it to a boil in a shallow pan. Boil for 4 minutes, add the reserved fruit, and boil for another 2-3 minutes or until a small drop placed on the frozen saucer tests for gel. Ladle the jam into the prepared jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing to the counter to cool, undisturbed.
Makes 6 four-ounce jars.
Variation: Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam with Cardamom
Hull 5-6 pods of green cardamom, releasing the black seeds inside. Lightly crush them and tie them in a small muslin bag or wrap them in cheesecloth tied with a string. Add them to the macerating fruit at the beginning and fish them out before ladling the jam into the jars. If the presence of cardamom is not strong enough for you, you can grind a few of the seeds (use a mortar and pestle) and add them to the jam. The spice will intensify over time.
Variation: Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam with Orange Peel
Peel the skin from half an orange with a sharp vegetable peeler, being careful not to grab the bitter white pith. Slice the peel into thin strips or 1/16th inch squares. Add the orange peel to the macerating fruit at the beginning.