Spring in the Midwestern garden seems to just require doing things with rhubarb. It's a little early for local strawberries up here in Minnesota, but there are still specials that I can't resist, and my rhubarb seems to peak earlier than that of many of my neighbors, so time to sit on the deck and prepare some fruit for a lovely batch of jam.
In my search for a no pectin recipe to use for the fairly ubiquitous strawberry rhubarb jam, I found huge variations in amount of sugar, in proportionate amounts of the two fruits, and lots of inexact ingredient lists (five stalks of rhubarb? really? just how much is that?)
The final results of my experimentation were amazingly easy and something even this lukewarm-to-rhubarb person found especially tasty. Now, there just needs to be some homemade bread to spread this on...a good way to spend some rainy days forecast for later in the week!
First, the fruit.
I have found the easiest way to stem the strawberries is this: After having washed the berries well, put them in a colander and individually twist off the leaves. Then take a small paring knife, cut out the hard stem core that is left and cut the berries into relatively small pieces. This will maximize the surface that will be infused with (and infusing) the sugar and rhubarb.
Then the rhubarb. This too is washed and diced. I was taking care to measure each of these items as I went, but you could easily put the berries and then the rhubarb directly into the deep kettle you will be cooking the mixture in.
I spent time weighing as well as measuring all the ingredients here and strongly support the use of weighing your ingredients for this recipe. There are just too many variables in how much you do or don't pack down the fruit. On the other hand, however, there is clearly some room for variability, as evidenced by the many web recipes, so don't get too hung up over not having quite as much rhubarb, etc.
After I had measured all the fruit, I mixed the rhubarb and strawberries with the sugar and lemon juice in a deep, heavy pot--make sure this mixture comes up to no more than a third to a half of the pan, since there will be a lot of boiling up and overflows are REALLY hard to clean up. (Plus, think of all that goodness you would be wasting if you let the jam spill onto the stove!)
Let the mixture sit perhaps 10 to 15 minutes while you get out some jars and lids and refill your coffee cup. The best way to get the jars hot (so they don't break when you put the boiling jam in) is to put about an inch or so of water in a metal cake pan and place over very low heat. Then put the jars in upside down and the lids around them. These continue to "simmer" until you are ready to fill then.
Now is also the time to put a couple of small china or glass plates in the freezer for testing the jelling stage later if you don't have a thermometer--or even if you do. I have to admit I still check the status of the jam this way, even with a thermometer.
Now you are ready to cook. Put the jam-to-be on the stove and heat over medium high, stirring down any sugar on the sides and making sure the mixture is not sticking. My mother had only a pretty lightweight aluminum pan in which she made jam, so she had to do a little more continuous stirring than I have to do with my more substantial stainless steel kettle. You will need to judge for yourself just how much continuous stirring your own equipment will require. You just want to avoid having the mixture stick and scorch and possibly have the entire batch ruined.
Keep the heat on medium high if you are not having trouble with sticking and then stir occasionally. If you have a candy thermometer, you can put it in the pan and cook until the temperature reaches 220 degrees. Otherwise, you will need to cook the mixture until it "sheets off the spoon." Dip a (preferably wood) spoon into the mixture and then let it drip back into the pan. When the drops start to come together as they fall back down, you are seeing the "sheeting." When it reaches this stage, take out one of those chilled plates and put a teaspoon or so on the plate. Tilt the plate--is it still very runny or is it starting to take on the consistency of jam?
When you get that jelling (or 220 degrees), it is time to take the jam off the stove and pour into heated jars. (If you have a lot of foam, you can skim this off first and use it to give yourself or your family an early taste of your labors. Just don't throw it away!)
Frugal? If you are not buying your rhubarb and the strawberries are your own or at a seasonable low price, the cost is far less than buying jam--and a lot lower in overall sugars. The cost is also much lower than for jams made with commercial pectin.
Fast? Kind of. The preparation of the fruit is a little time-consuming, but the preparation really can be done in only 15 to 20 minutes. I would suggest you plan other things to do in the kitchen while the jam is cooking so you can just occasionally go over and give it a stir while doing other things.
Fun? How great it is to have some really good, really fresh tasting jam you can proudly say you made yourself...and this is really a pretty good place for kids (old enough to be around hot stoves!) to learn the rewards of making good food themselves.
Healthy? The sugar content here is much lower than in most commercial jams and there is no high fructose corn syrup or any unpronounceable additive in the ingredients list.
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
1 1/2 lb rhubarb (about 5 1/2 cups chopped)
2 lb strawberries (about 6 1/2 cups chopped)
2 lb (4 cups) sugar
2 T lemon juice
1. Combine all ingredients in a large kettle. To maximize juice extraction, you may want to mash the mixture with a potato masher, but this is an optional step. Set the mixture aside for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Heat the mixture to boiling over medium high heat, stirring often. Use a silicone spatula to wipe down the sides of the pan, to be sure all the sugar is mixed in and dissolved.
3. Continue cooking, stirring often, about 35 to 40 minutes, until the mixture reaches 220 degrees. You may also test for jelling by putting a small amount of the mixture on a chilled glass or china plate. The consistency of this sample should be about what you want your jam to have.
4. As soon as the mixture has reached the appropriate thickness, remove from heat. If desired, skim any foam that might have formed.
5. Ladle into hot jars immediately and cover tightly. Makes 4 to 5 pints.
1. Be sure the jars and lids are made for canning and have been sterilized in boiling water
2. The filled jars should be immediately put into a large pot of boiling water that will reach about an inch above the tops of the jars.
3. Process the (pint) jars for ten minutes after the water returns to a boil. Half pint jelly jars can be processed for only 5 minutes. I would not recommend using larger jars if you are going to process them, as the longer time needed to keep them safe could also cause the jam to become overcooked.