Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Rhubarb Weekend

When I was 15, I participted in an exchange program that led to a long time friendship with a French woman -- Claire Lise. For years, we'd split the summers -- she'd spend 3 weeks with me in small town Connecticut and I'd spend 3 weeks with her travelling from Paris to Port Croix to Normandie.

Normandie was my favorite -- her family had a farm house that would accomodate Claire's grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Her Grand Mere nourished a magnificent garden -- from which I learned to eat tomatoes like apples, right off the vine, giving rise to my summer addiction. Her rhubarb patches were thick and productive -- and every year I'd go home with jars of rhubarb jam. It was green, fresh, and only slightly tart.

I've tried for many years to immitate it. Which was why I was thrilled when Megan called to let me know her rhubarb is in abundance and her kitchen is free this weekend. (Incidentally, she needed someone to play with her dog this weekend as she bikes 100 miles.) Megan lives 45 miles north of Portland, which in Maine easily qualifies as the middle of farm country no where, and we often refer to her farm house as George's country home (as she tends to spend a lot of time there when I'm otherwise on the road.

I love making jam -- its cathartic the way rolling your own pasta is relaxing. I preserve the old-fashion way, boiling my jars. I've gotten creative too as I've gained in experience -- mixing wild cherries with apples, cranberries, and blue berries. I've made elegant jams from plums and thyme and pears and mint.

But I've never been able to properly produce Claire's grandmother's rhubarb jam. My aesthetic issue is that its not green -- and there isn't much that I can do about that. American rhubarb has more pink in it than that of France. So I'll igore that and move on to my bigger issue, which is that I can't mimick the freshness. Getting the jam to set requires enough sugar that it adequately squelches that taste. I've tried cutting down on the sugar and ended up with a syrupy ice cream topping (especially good when served slightly warm). I've tried cooking it longer and ended up having to throw out a pan. I've tried cutting back on the water and the sugar and ended up with nothing at all.

Any French jam makers out there with some Rhubarb expertise?


mashenka@dc said...

I've only made preserves once in my life, but since I was inspired to make blueberry rhubarb cobbler this past weekend, I'll add my 2 cents.

Christopher Kimball recommends *sauteeing* rhubarb before including it in strawberry rhubarb pie, so I took a leaf out of that and sauteed my rhubarb with a bit of sweetener before including it in the cobbler. His reasoning is that the high heat of saute reduces the liquids in the rhubarb, and prevents soupiness, which sounds like what you're trying to do as well. He also recommends using arrowroot as a binder for the pie.

I don't know if you want any sort of oils in your preserves--could be a bit iffy, but why not try a batch with sauteed rhubabr? And maybe arrowroot (they tried tapioca and cornstarch both and went for arrowroot).

And a final note--commercial preserves use pectin. Have you tried that yet?

mashenka@dc said...

Hey, did you see the BlogHer post today about Rhubarb?