Sunday, May 24, 2015

Excess Rhubarb Results in Jam

Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam
My friend Tetiana gave me a large bag of rhubarb the other day. Unfortunately it was all nicely diced. Meaning, it has to be used, and relatively quickly before it all goes bad! Whole stalks would have been ideal, giving me time to work with it. A few days ago I made a test run of Raspberry Bars. This was ideally to have been Rhubarb Raspberry Bars, but Tetiana had not brought the rhubarb yet, and even the grocery still had none in stock. Once I had all that rhubarb to work with, what to do with it became a pressing matter. 

The first thing I did was to make a jam, or maybe marmalade? Anyway, I had seen some blood oranges at the grocery, and while not inexpensive, I had never worked with them before and I thought the added red of the oranges would enhance the rhubarb's pale pinkish color (when cooked). Tossing around ideas, I used 4 of the blood oranges to 6 cups of rhubarb. I used the peels from 2 1/2 of the oranges for both flavor and texture. The oranges, called "Sanguinellas" on their little stickers, were a deep purple inside. The mixture in the pan all together was really pretty, with the pink and green of the rhubarb, the deep purple of the oranges and the bright orange of their peels.
"Sanguinella" Blood Oranges          |          colorful ingredients in the pot          |          with sugar added in            
I haven't made much jam that is cooked the long way for many years. Mostly I use Sure Jell Packets and have done with it. In this case I had no real idea about how much Sure Jell to use, so I just went the long route and cooked until done. 


The thing about this is knowing precisely when the jam is "done". Theoretically, this is when the boiling mixture coalesces into two thick drops when holding a spoon up on its side, as demonstrated in this picture I made at right. This is called "sheeting", as when the jam falls in a near-solid "sheet" from the spoon. The reality is not always so clear cut as this. In cooking my Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam, it stayed looking far runnier than this. Once I decided that it absolutely "had" to be done, it was already cooked for longer than needed. The jam is delicious, and I am happy with flavors. It is, however, a bit too thick and harder to spread than it could be. I would still recommend this recipe. It is worthwhile, and doesn't really take all that long.
How the bubbles look when done     |   the thin "sheeting" of my jam               

Bubble Pattern

Another thing to watch for when cooking jam is the bubble pattern. We all know what it looks like when a mixture boils, with the thinness of the liquid and flimsy bubbles. As a sweet mixture cooks down, the bubble pattern becomes more dense, the bubbles finer and more closely spaced. In these photos here at right, observe the pattern of teensy bubbles, interspersed with some larger ones breaking surface. 

Canning and Jars

When making jam, jelly, preserves, conserves, the most important thing is the jars and canning process. When I was growing up in the 1950s, my Mom made jams and jellies every summer. Generally, she used hot paraffin wax to "seal" the jars. None of us ever got sick from her canning methods, so I have to assume it worked well. She did also can foods in Mason or Ball jars, with the typical ring and lid mechanism. For jams and jellies, she poured the boiling jam mixture into the sterilized jars, topped with a sterilized lid and ring to seal it and waited for that familiar loud "pop", indicating the jars had sealed. For other fruit or vegetable canning, she did use a boiling water bath. Again, we never became ill from her canning, so we all assumed this was fine.

These days, no matter what one is preserving, the boiling water bath or pressure canning is de rigeur. This consists of setting the jars of preserves or other food into a large kettle tall enough to completely submerge the jars. The jars are set onto or into a rack to keep them upright and separated, so water can flow freely around the jars. Keeping the jars at the prescribed temperature in the boiling water is the important part, and the timing starts at the point where the pot is at a rolling boil. For most jams and jellies, a safe timing of this water bath is as follows:
  • 10 minutes at up to 1,000 feet above sea level
  • 15 minutes if between 1,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level
  • 20 minutes at higher than 6,000 feet above sea level

And then there are Weck Jars

Behind, sealed Weck jars, clamps still on with the gasket tab pointed downwards
Weck is a German brand of particularly lovely jars. They come at a price. The plus side is the loveliness of the canned goods and the reusable lids and rubber gaskets. The cons with these jars, I found, is getting them to seal properly. I had bought a box of the Weck mini tulip jars, to ease myself into using them. At the very least, they make a lovely presentation. The jars come with 2 clamps apiece to hold the lids in place during the water processing. In theory, the lids seal, and the little tab on the rubber gasket points downwards, indicating a proper seal. Once the jars have been processed, the clamps are removed, to use for other canning, and the tab is tugged gently to insure there is a good seal. If the tug on the tab lifts the lid off the jar, obviously there is not a good seal and the food must be refrigerated and used. 

I read online that other people were having difficulties with Weck jars and getting a good seal. The ratio of jars that did not seal properly was quite high, in comparison with the regular Ball jar lid and ring mechanism. Someone suggested that if the clamp was not clamped all the way down to the jar, this allowed better expansion and contraction of the contents while processing. Once removed from the water bath, the clamp is pressed down all the way and left to cool. 

I tried and tried to see a way of only partially pressing down those clamps, and let me say, I don't know if it is just the small size of my jars, or something I am completely missing in translation. "Not all the way down" for me, resulted in the clamp setting right on the rubber gasket. There is no possible way it can set on that gasket and not lift the lid off. Being submerged in a water bath would have resulted in all my jam leaking out into the kettle of water. Oh well. Out of 6 Weck jars, four of them sealed properly and two did not. Not the best odds. The one little Ball jelly jar sealed perfectly. I guess I will stick with Ball jars for my canning and use the Weck for pretty presentations.

Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam
Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam

makes about 5 1/2 cups

6 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
2 cups blood orange (or other orange) fruit
1/2 cup orange rind, julienne cut
6 cups sugar
1/2 cup orange juice or combo of juice and water

Find the widest large pot possible for cooking jam. This helps with surface evaporation, making the jelling process go more quickly. Place the rhubarb in the pot. Using a potato peeler, pare off a thin layer of rind from well-scrubbed oranges. Peel all the rind in strips about 3/4-inch wide at a time, down the length of the orange. Once all the rind is off, without the white pith underneath, slice the strips across into very thin julienne slices. Do this with as many oranges as needed to make the half-cup of julienned rind. Add this to the pot with the rhubarb.

I found the orange peels very easy to pull off, much like tangerines. Once the skins are removed, coarsely chop the fruit and add 2 cups of the fruit to the pan. Add in the sugar and the orange juice (or water, or a mix of the two), and stir well. Set the pan onto medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture is boiling, maintain the heat at medium or just slightly less, keeping a good boil. Stirring need not be constant; stir only occasionally to make sure the mixture is not sticking. 

Cook the jam for about half an hour, or until it sheets from a spoon, as shown in the pictures above. If using a lower temperature, or if using a narrower pot, this process may take up to an hour. While the jam is cooking, place all the jars, lids and rings into a boiling water bath for at least 10 minutes. When the jam is done, using tongs, carefully remove one jar from the boiling water. Fill the jar with the hot jam to about 1/2 inch from the top. Have a clean, damp cloth ready and wipe down the rim of the jar before setting a lid in place and tightening down a ring to seal. Repeat with all the mixture. When all jars are sealed, make sure the canning pot has water deep enough to accommodate completely submerging the jars in the boiling water. Set jars onto a rack in the pot. Bring the water to a full boil and cover with a lid. Time the water bath for 10 minutes, or follow the table above for your altitude. Once finished processing, use tongs or canning tongs to remove the hot jars from the bath. Set them on a damp towel to cool.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.