Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The New Red Queen Says: JAM EVERY DAY!

"It's very good jam," said the Queen.
"Well, I don't want any to-day, at any rate."
"You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said. "The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam to-day."
"It must come sometimes to 'jam to-day,'"Alice objected.
"No it can't," said the Queen. "It's jam every other day; to-day isn't any other day, you know."
"I don't understand you," said Alice. "It's dreadfully confusing."
--Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

Finally...finally...we have reached that gossamer intersection where the rhubarb is not yet done ("I'm not quite dead!") and the strawberries are in their sweet and juicy prime (just like me, tee hee). And in this magical hour, friends, I dare to usurp the Red Queen's throne and decree, JAM EVERY DAY! Indeed, the canning and preserving season has officially begun, and I have completed a mammoth inaugural batch of the most AMAZING ruby/garnet goodness--that is to say, a very fine strawberry-rhubarb jam. And I did something very daring. I decided to meld together two recipes that I was intrigued by and...YIKES...not use any added pectin. (Say it with me: commercial pectin is for sissies!) First, I was mesmerized by the pictures of Zarah Maria's jam in Copenhagen, but she reported that the resulting spread, from a recipe in Sensational Preserves, was overly-tart. So I was also guided by Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures, by way of Jen the Bakerina, and the recipe that introduces an innovative technique and also calls for more sugar. And somehow, though jam and jelly-making are scientific processes that the faint of heart should not toy with, I managed to produce a jam that actually set up without extra pectin and what's more, tastes MARVELOUS. I will explain my process, but it should be noted that every preserving effort is risky and the final result is never guaranteed. But that's half the fun, no?

I started with this:
That happened to amount to almost seven pounds of rhubarb harvested from my own backyard and four and a half pounds of the enchanting Quebecois strawberries in separate plastic bowls. The rhubarb had been washed and cut into half-inch pieces, and the strawberries had been hulled and mostly left whole, except for the largest which I halved. I added equal amounts by weight of sugar to each bowl (which is a SHLOAD of sugar--my roomie wandered into the kitchen, saw the massive sugar mountains atop the fruit, and inquired when I had begun a mining operation!), covered and refrigerated them overnight to soak in their own juices . The next evening, I added the rhubarb and its syrup to a GINORMOUS pot (I actually had to borrow a cauldron from my school's food service to accommodate it all--and stand on a step ladder to be able to see inside and stir!), and also the syrup strained from the strawberries. Ferber's technique is to boil the syrup first, then add the strawberries and rhubarb so that they cook less and retain a fresher flavor. But I was worried that the rhubarb might not be tender enough for my liking if I did it that way. So I started cooking the rhubarb and syrup together along with the juice of three lemons as well as the emptied lemon rinds tied up in a double layer of cheesecloth. I brought this to a boil, skimmed off the foam, and attempted to bring it to 221 degrees, although it stalled at 220 for some reason. After at least five minutes waiting for it to gain that one degree, I gave up, fished out the lemon bag, and added in the strawberries and the juice of another lemon. I brought everything to a boil, skimmed the foam, and brought the jam to the setting point of 221 degrees (inexplicably, it finally managed to acquire that elusive last degree). At this point, I did a spoon test, the results of which were inconclusive. The plate-in-the-freezer test yielded something a bit too soft for my liking, so I attempted to keep it boiling at 221 for another five minutes, though it vaccillated between 221 and 219 of its own accord. After five minutes, I panicked and called it quits for fear of vulcanizing the final product. I jarred the beautiful, delicious stuff up into half-pints and processed them in three batches in a water bath canner for 10 minutes apiece. When I was finally done with the last batch, I turned around, and to my amazement, discovered 27 jars of glorious strawberry-rhubarb jam on my counter! The only thing left to do was wait to see if it would set. And as the modern-day prophet, Tom Petty, said so eloquently, "the wai-ai-ai-ting is the hardest part!" But by morning, it looked promising for the set, and by the time I got home from work, it was JAM!

Now, I would like to pick people's brains on the most desirable consistency for jam? I wouldn't want to turn the jar over and have it run like syrup to the other end, but neither would I want it not to move at all and stay stuck to the top (bottom) of the jar. I think, ideally, it should fall down to the bottom (top) in more or less one plop. But, with or without added pectin, mine usually hesitates, quivers, then breaks a bit and slides down the side. Or most of it falls down mostly in a whole clump in the middle, but with a bit of syrupy-ness on either side. What do other jam-makers out there think? I'd like to hear your opinions. Of course, by the time the jam is refrigerated, it firms up quite a bit, but is never tough or rubbery. So I think all is well.

But I would be remiss if I ended my tale of strawberry-rhubarb glory without a word of thanks to Jen. Pectin-less jam-making is fraught with peril and jangles the nerves, and therefore should not be undertaken without a wise mentor who provides sufficient emotional support, and she did that for me. All hail the Bakerina! And we also praise her for the beloved rice bread recipe, as I have just pulled two loaves of the heavenly stuff from the oven. And the craggy, crispy toast I will make of it shall receive an annointing of tangy red ripe lusciousness come morning! (Sing it again: "the wai-ai-ai-ting is the hardest part!")

UPDATE: Just LOOK at it! It's almost too pretty to eat....well...almost!


kitchenmage said...

damn that looks good! i am so itching to get enough of something to make jam!

With Love, Fat Girl said...

Damn again... you've inspired me to make jam, even if just to look at!

Joe said...

I agree, that looks so good!

JoyBugaloo said...

Thanks, everyone. I was really pleased with how it turned out. It tastes yummy, and it actually set up without pectin! And other than taking a couple of hours and a blister on my finger from cutting up the rhubarb and strawberries, it was pretty easy. You all should try it! --Gina

P.S. Beth, you're telling me that the strawberries aren't ready in Oregon yet? How can this be? We are a couple of zones cooler than you, I think! (I'm Zone 4.)

Randi said...

I agree with the other noters, it does look good. I do use commercial pectin( no sugar kind) in my strawberry jam because I can't use tons and tons of sugar because I'm a diabetic. I use local Ontario strawberries and they are very sweet so 1 1/2 cup sugar between 6 jars does the trick.

Anonymous said...

It's now June, 2009, and I just found this "recipe" and it looks wonderful. I'm wondering, though ... have you ever cooked this jam recipe again? Was it really worth it to you? We've got a garbage bag full of rhubarb stalks, and I'm trying to find more and more ways to cook it up.