Rhubarb preserves

Astrid from Paulchens Foodblog is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week, and once again I am going to go a little crazy over rhubarb. Still struggling to get through the enormous bag of the stuff given to my mum by a friend (the rhubarb and ginger cake made very slight inroads), I decided the most appealing option remaining was to preserve it in some shape or form. It wasn't quite gorgeously pink and slender enough for bottling, so I went down the jam and chutney route. It's been a while since I've made jam or chutney, but I do enjoy the wonderful alchemy of putting a load of apparently disparate ingredients (raisins, vinegar, onions, rhubarb, spices) in a huge pot and stirring away with a giant wooden spoon until they have merged together into a harmonious, spreadable delight. It makes me feel rather like a Victorian housewife.

I've never attempted either rhubarb jam or chutney before, but I decided to make both. Largely because I already have so much chutney (people just give it to me as a present - I'm not sure what exactly there is present in my constitution that screams "GIVE ME VINEGARY PRESERVES", but there must be something - not that I'm complaining) that I'm going to need to purchase either an entire pig or a kilo of cheese to go with it, and also because I've just run out of my beloved homemade fig jam and need a substitute. I am doubtful as to whether anything will match the sheer deliciousness of that jam, but surely if anything is going to, it will be rhubarb, one of my favourite ingredients.

I set about the chutney first, because it takes longer. I wanted ginger in there, for a fiery kick and also for its affinity with rhubarb. I wanted raisins, because I love the way they plump up in a preserve and add a lovely textural contrast. I wanted apple, to add another fruity flavour to the rhubarb, and I wanted brown sugar because I love its caramel notes. In they went, along with copious amounts of red wine vinegar, chopped red onions, rhubarb, salt, and curry powder. Adding curry powder is an idea I picked up from googling chutney recipes - it's easier than adding all your own spices in small amounts, and it adds a great spicy aroma. I would have put mustard seeds in there too, convinced we had a small bag of them in the larder - I had seen them before recently, and could visualise their location - except neither I nor my mum could find them anywhere. We practically dismantled the larder in search, but they were nowhere to be found, and now I am convinced I am losing my mind. You know you're too obsessed with food when you start hallucinating mustard seeds.

I let all of that bubble away happily, and set about making jam. Again, I used fresh ginger, and also the juice and zest of two oranges. I also put some ground ginger in there too, for extra heat, a lot of sugar, the rhubarb, and the juice of a lemon to help it set and to take the edge off all the sugar. Neither the jam nor the chutney looked the most appetising of things when they were finished, being rather brown and stringy, but it's all about the flavour, and the jam I tested was very nice. I haven't tried the chutney, as I need to let it mature for three months first, but it smelled rather delicious. I felt an immense sense of satisfaction as I spooned the finished preserves into their little jars, sealed them, and labelled them. My inner home economist is placated, and now all I need is to make a loaf of bread to eat the jam with. 

I bottled this jam and chutney in a mixture of Le Parfait and normal jam jars, so I've given roughly the number of normal jam jars it will fill. This depends on your jars, though, so have a selection sterilised and waiting for the finished preserve. If you can only half-fill one, just keep it in the fridge and eat it first!

Rhubarb and ginger chutney (makes about 6-7 jars):

1 kg rhubarb, cut into lengths
500g red onions, roughly chopped
4 cooking apples, peeled and roughly chopped
400g raisins
60g fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
300ml red wine vinegar
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp mustard seeds (if you actually have some, and are not just hallucinating)
2 tsp salt
400g muscovado sugar

Boil the onions, ginger and vinegar for 10 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the rhubarb, and cook for about 15 minutes until the apples have softened. Stir in the rhubarb, and simmer gently for about an hour, possibly two, until it has all softened and formed a thick brown mass. You should be able to run the spoon down the centre of the pan and leave a momentary gap between the two halves of the mixture.

Pour into hot sterilised jars while the mixture is still very hot, then cover with waxed discs and seal. Leave for at least three months to mature before eating.

Rhubarb, orange and ginger jam (makes 4-5 jars):

1 kg rhubarb, cut into short lengths
Juice and zest of 2 oranges
50g fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
700g granulated sugar or jam sugar
100g muscovado sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Place all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil, stirring to make sure the sugar doesn't burn. Lower the heat and simmer gently for an hour or two until the jam has thickened. To test it, put a plate in the fridge until cold, then spoon a little jam on top. Leave for a minute, then run your finger through it - it should wrinkle.

Spoon the hot jam into sterilised jars, cover with wax discs and seal.

A cheeseboard partner

The Merton Time Ceremony a couple of weeks ago, involving copious consumption of port, instilled in me the craving for a cheeseboard. Gruyere, Brie, Oxford Blue (of course), oatcakes, grapes, figs, and a jar of Tracklements Crabapple Jelly, which I was lucky enough to receive a sample of in the post. I've never tried crabapple jelly before, but I am a convert. It's a bit like quince cheese - sweet but sharp enough to go perfectly with both meat and cheese. Crabapples are inedible raw, being very sour tasting - a bit like quinces. Apparently Tracklements get local schoolchildren to help collect the crabapples from nearby fields for the jelly. I rather like this idea. I also have a soft spot for the company seeing as they were the first to introduce onion marmalade to the world (in 1999), which is one of my all-time favourite condiments. The jelly would be lovely in sandwiches (particularly, I imagine, roast pork or possibly pheasant) but I can confirm that it is very good trickled over an oatcake onto which you've placed a large chunk of blue cheese.