Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Making and Canning Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

[Disclaimer: I am about to ramble. I will clearly mark the end of the ramble. You are welcome to skip my musings!]

With any skill set, you are bound to hit plateaus--long stretches where you worry that you're not doing anything different or more exciting. Where you start to get antsy or tired of this activity to which you've dedicated so much of your time, not because you no longer love the activity, but because you have not provided yourself with new challenges (or scenery, so to speak.)

I adore cooking. I could never have imagined how much it would change and enlighten me when I got the bug a few years ago. It started off as a date night activity with the guy I had just started to see, and now three years later, he's still right here with me, ensuring I don't undercook the chicken and producing plenty of dishes on his own. It might be true that at the start of my journey, I thought "oregano" was how Italians spoke of that state in the Pacific Northwest. Now I must say I'm a bit wiser.

But still I need to continue to grow and shoot for loftier goals, especially because with my packed schedule cooking can seem on the rarest occasions like a chore. I can't let that happen!

I would love to make my own seasoning mixture. Start a garden. Write a cookbook. Increase my originality in the kitchen. Read whole books on the science of cooking and fully understand what exactly I'm doing to these poor animals and vegetables.

For now, though, I did pick up the new techniques of jamming and canning, and I am anxious to push myself more.


So to continue with my seasonal blog adherence--which is now in week 5!--I tackled rhubarb for the first time. It is not just a non-descript foodstuff that might have been mentioned by Laura Ingalls Wilder! It's a vibrant, tangy stalk complemented with sugary perfection by the strawberry.

For the rhubarb, you must be careful to trim it properly. The roots and leaves are poisonous. Do not poison people with your jam. It would leave a bad taste in their mouths. And possibly kill them. Please refrain.

Do not fret about the peel, though! It may come off a little as your dicing, but it is completely safe to cook your jam with rhubarb peel included. It's my understanding that the peel cooks down along with the rhubarb.

The fruit cooks for an hour or so, jamming all the while. (I invited my boyfriend to play guitar during the process. "You can jam while I can jam." I am a delight.)

When the jam was about halfway done, I started preparing my cans. The large pot of water took its sweet time boiling, but I expected nothing less.

Once the cans and lids were sterilized, I set them on a clean dish towel and quickly scooped in the now-done jam. While the timing doesn't have to be right on the nose, you want the jars to still be pretty warm when you add the hot jam.

Then I sealed the jars tightly and added them back into the boiling water.

After which they sadistically needed to cool for 24 hours before we could enjoy.

We bravely translated this setback into breakfast for supper.

Making and Canning Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam
Makes 3 8-oz. jars

1 1/4 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and diced
2 cups strawberries (about 8 oz.), hulled and quartered
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 8-oz. canning jars (must have rings and lids)

1. Combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for one hour, stirring occasionally.
2. About thirty minutes in, heat up large pot of water to boil. Unscrew lids from jars and add jars, rings, and lids to boiling water using tongs. Sterilize for ten minutes, then remove all items to a clean dish towel.
3. When jam is done, scoop immediately into still-warm jars. Seal jars and return to pot of boiling water, setting them upright at the bottom of the pot. Boil for 10 minutes. Return jars to clean dish towel and let cool for 24 hours.
4. After 24 hours have passed, test that the jar is sealed by removing the ring (but not the lid). Press down on the top of the lid with your index finger. If the lid springs back, it is not properly sealed. It should appear slightly concave.
5. Give jars clever titles and enjoy wowing your friends with your endless puns.

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