The last stalks of organic rhubarb in the farm market will not go begging this year. They were reduced to an unctuous consistency in these slightly chunky preserves with tart flavor mellowed by the haunting essence of vanilla.. I used my typical technique of macerating chopped rhubarb in sugar to release the juices, adding a vanilla bean split lengthwise and crosswise. Before cooking the rhubarb, I scraped the seeds from the bean pods into the mixture. The pods went into a jar of sugar, a vanilla bean “graveyard” that I raid every so often for the flavorful and aromatic vanilla sugar. Vanilla and rhubarb are really excellent together. This is a jam that I’ll make again and again, I’m sure.
Since I’m teaching some folks how to can using a water bath method, I’ve given a few more instructions below than I usually do. For novices at water bath canning, please consult a good source for a full description of the method.
Rhubarb Vanilla Preserves
1 lb rhubarb stalks
1 c sugar
1-2 vanilla beans depending on size
Trim the rhubarb and cut it into ½-inch pieces. Combine with the sugar, stirring to coat the rhubarb. Split the vanilla bean(s) lengthwise and crosswise, and loosen the bean paste with the tip of a knife, Immerse in the rhubarb and set aside for about 4 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator. Stir it after an hour or so to encourage the sugar to dissolve.
If you intend to can the jam, prepare the canning kettle and jars (I boil the jars so that they’ll be sterilized and do not remove them until I am ready to ladle in the hot jam.) Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel.
Scrape the bean pods clean of the vanilla paste and stir it into the rhubarb-sugar mixture. Bring the rhubarb to a boil in a large wide pan, and cook until it tests for gel (when a drop placed on the frozen saucer wrinkles to the touch). This takes about 6 minutes or so.
Ladle the preserves into hot jars, clean the rims, set the lids and bands and carefully lift them into the hot water in the canner. Process 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 a counter to sit undisturbed until cool.