Our rhubarb has been growing fast and furious so I decided it was time to get cooking this weekend. I am good friends with a group of girls calling ourselves the `Domestic Goddesses‘. Every couple of months we meet up for a dinner party at one of our houses. One member cooks a main course and another makes a dessert. The rules are that it has to be something you have never cooked before and you are not allowed to have a practice run. We started the group over 5 years ago. We had been chatting about dating and how if we attracted a man some of us had a very limited repertoire of recipes to impress a future husband! My stock recipe was Boeuf Bourguignon. However if dating advanced beyond Boeuf Bourguignon I had no other fail safe recipe up my sleeve to fall back on! The Domestic Goddess group was born. The majority of us have now found partners or husbands and I must admit my Black-Eyed Bean Stew with Spicy Sausage which I first made at Domestic Goddesses was an instant hit with my future husband! He still raves about it!
This weekends cooking adventures proved I haven’t made the grade to Domestic Goddess status yet! Firstly I thought I’d make an `Easy’ rhubarb fool. Guess who was the fool?! The recipe required boiling up the rhubarb with sugar and orange juice and enough water to cover the rhubarb.
Well this made ever such a lot of juice so I think less water was required.
Then I needed whipped cream and egg white, beaten until peaked.
I know that you should have spotlessly clean equipment to get peaks when whipping egg whites, so why did I decide to re-use the whisk I had whipped the cream with and not wash it? Needless to say I couldn’t make egg white peaks just a liquid white froth that looked like the texture of a far off planet.
I ploughed on regardless thinking this was an easy recipe so everything would work out. I was then instructed to fold in the cream and egg white mixture into the rhubarb. At no point did the recipe say `Wait for the rhubarb mixture to cool’. So I did as instructed and put cold whipped cream into boiling hot rhubarb. I could have predicted the runny,curdled mess. Oh well I put the disaster in beautiful dessert glasses and hoped a miracle would happen in the fridge and it would set. It didn’t and my husband refused to eat his as it looked like cat sick. So definately not a Domestic Goddess moment!
The next recipe of the weekend was a trusty favourite, or so I thought!
Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam
1kg granulated sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
Juice of 1 lemon
For this recipe try to use early forced rhubarb – the bright pink variety. It’s less watery and much sweeter than later season rhubarb, which produces a sludge green jam.
After having recently spent time experimenting with mixing various shades of red for my Ruby Red Bouquet I was fascinated by the different red colours in the stalks of rhubarb from deep crimson to speckled light pink. The end pulled out of the ground is truly a bright magenta pink. A vivid almost flourescent colour.
1. Trim, wash and wipe the rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put into a large bowl, toss with the sugar, cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight to macerate.
Maceration is a process which softens or breaks up food. When fruit is sprinkled with sugar and left to sit the fruit releases its own juices and softens.
Unfortunately I forgot this recipe needed the rhubarb to macerate overnight. I decided to be `clever’ and speed up the process by putting the covered bowl in the sunny garden. Big mistake! I knew the clean tea-towel would stop any flies landing in the bowl. However I forgot that ants like sugar! An hour later the bowl was covered with ants. So I had to start again.
I chose to use preserving sugar. I was a bit confused between preserving sugar and jam sugar which were sat side by side on the supermarket shelf. Preserving sugar is a very large crystal white sugar. It dissolves more slowly and does not settle on the bottom of the pan, reducing the risk of burning. It reduces the need for stirring and skimming. Jam sugar contains added pectin, making it ideal for use with low-pectin fruits.
Pectin is a naturally occurring carbohydrate found mostly in the skin and core of fruit, when combined with acid and sugar it forms a gel, the essential process for setting jam. Different types of fruit have different levels of pectin content, and it is at it’s highest levels in slightly under-ripe fruit. When making jam or jelly with a fruit high in pectin it will set easily. Low pectin fruit can still be made to set, but will need help. Rhubarb is low in pectin. To make it set you could use jam sugar with added pectin, combine with fruit high in pectin content (such as orange) or add lemon juice to the rhubarb. The acid lemon juice helps extract the pectin.
2. Next day, pour the rhubarb mixture into a preserving pan. Most of the sugar will have dissolved.
Add the vanilla pod and the lemon juice. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally, until any remaining sugar has dissolved.
3. Boil rapidly until darkened and thickened and the jam has reached setting point.
4. Remove from the heat, skim off any skum, and allow to cool briefly. Carefully pour into hot sterilised jars. Seal and allow to cool before labelling and storing.
I then set to and made some delicious home-made scones. We then sat in the garden enjoying a lovely tea of fresh scones with rhubarb and vanilla jam and clotted cream. Rhubarb and Vanilla is a fantastic combination and was voted the best jam I made last year amongst all my friends and family.