Saturday, May 27, 2006

It's All Rhubarb to Moi

It's a balmy Saturday morning that finally feels like true early summer instead of endless chilly spring.

The roses are spilling over everywhere all of a sudden--lemony yellow, sunset peach, dusty maroon, lipgloss pink, mysterious greenish-white, smoky lavender, and ruffly ball-gown ivory.
The breezes are blowing the curtains around and the house is redolent with the fragrance of warm strawberries.

Big baskets of the first Jersey strawberries were on offer at the Borough Hall farmers' market on Thursday, along with the season's first garden peas and yes, more rhubarb! Since the Pie Queen Mother--a dedicated jam fancier--is coming to brunch tomorrow, it behooved PQ to pick up a couple boxes, plus a big pink bag of rhubarb, and set about making some strawberry-rhubarb jam. This seemed like a good opportunity to see what French jam star Christine Ferber had to say about the subject, in her fabulously outre book, Mes Confitures.

First, the expected: cut up all the rhubarb into little pieces, mix it with sugar and lemon juice, and let it sit overnight. Same with the strawberries.

In this fashion, you're letting the sugar do the work. Rather than having to boil the fruit for a long time to evaporate the extra water and get the mixture concentrated enough to thicken, you let the hydroscopic action of the sugar do it for you. The sugar itself draws out the excess water from the fruit, leaving you with a bunch of shrunk-down berries and a whole lot of sweetened juice. The juice gets boiled down alone, while the fruit chills out in a colander, listening to the Met opera broadcast and reading the New Republic. When the juice has reduced to a thickish syrup, you throw in the fruit and cook it for a few minutes, just until it's softened and translucent. That way, the fruit keeps its flavor, and the jam tastes like fresh-picked fruit, not cooked to death mush. You can also use less sugar this way, since you get thickness from evaporation, not sugar-concentration. The slow maceration also helps avoid that raw-sugar taste that some homemade jams can have.

So far, so good. Then the next part: dump the strawberries and their liquid into a pan, bring to a boil, then pour back into a bowl and let sit overnight again.

But now...Bring the mixture to a boil five times. Repeat this four times at 8 hour intervals. Oh, Mlle. Ferber, je suis desolee, but I am not hanging around for the next 32 hours boiling my strawberries twenty times. That's just wack. So we're going back to standard strawberry-preserve method, extended slightly for rhubarb: Let the once-boiled strawbs sit around for a while to contemplate their approaching destiny. Then, drain, set the fruit aside, and boil the syrup in one pan. Do the same to the rhubarb in a separate pan. Add the rhubarb, cook until soft, then dump in the strawberry syrup and reserved strawberries. Cook the whole thing for another few minutes until, tut, tut, it looks like jam.

That's the plan, anyway, and maybe I'll even do like Bakerina does and take step-by-step pictures. Stay tuned!


K. said...

How I miss Chez PQ.

Stephanie J. Rosenbaum said...

It awaits your return! Come next June, you'll be here, for all the roses and rhubarb...