When I hustle down the basement stairs to grab another jar of jam, what stops me from reaching for the cherry? While I found the flavor of last year’s batch delicious, I still have a few jars sitting on the downstairs shelf that houses all my jams and preserves. But after making a new concoction this year, I have a theory: the old batch suffers from a lack of rhubarb.
Chefs and home-cooks perpetually pair rhubarb with strawberry for good reason. Just as your partner might enhance your good qualities and tone down your more abrupt ones, a strawberry’s inherently sweet silkiness is able to effortlessly relax a rhubarb stalk’s aggressively savory notes. Once relaxed and broken down into soft strands, the rhubarb bolsters the one-note sweetness that often envelops baked strawberries. Summer after summer, there are few tastes that uniformly shout “summer is here!” than a strawberry-rhubarb dessert.
So imagine my surprise when I paired rhubarb with cherries and found a similar relationship: once again, rhubarb plays well with others, moderating the cherry’s sweetness while bulking up the general flavor profile. As it turns out, I misread the balance in the strawberry-rhubarb relationship: I had assigned strawberry to an alpha role and slotted rhubarb into the grateful assistant category. Yet it’s rhubarb’s savory notes and stalk structure that make other, sweeter, fruits taste better. Despite my affinity for sweet flavors, I have no inclination to combine strawberries and cherries into a jam – their merged sweetness would be overpowering. But rhubarb and cherries work perfectly together.
Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Jam uses almost two pounds of unpitted cherries for their juice, not their flesh. After starting the jam as a straight rhubarb concoction, I removed the rhubarb pieces, added the cherries to the rhubarb juice and cooked until the cherries were shriveled and spent (not the most pleasant of descriptions, but very accurate). From there, I mashed the cherries through a sieve on top of the rhubarb pieces, extracting their juice. I then unceremoniously composted the cherries and returned the rhubarb pieces sweetened by cherry juice back to the pan. Clearly, Saunders understood rhubarb’s role in food pairings well before I did.
Rhubarb hangs around at the farmers’ market for a few more months and cherries have just started coming into season. It’s time to move beyond the delicious but predictable strawberry rhubarb relationship and start pairing rhubarb with other sweet fruits. This jam is the ideal gateway to understanding rhubarb’s versatility.
Rhubarb Cherry Jam
Recipe Source: Blue Chair Jam
Yield: 4-5 8 oz jars
- 2 1/2 lbs trimmed rhubarb stalks, cut into 3 inch lengths
- 2 lbs cane sugar
- 5 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 3/4 lbs unpitted cherries
- Place a saucer with 3-4 teaspoons in your freezer. You’ll use this to test the jam later.
- Place the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice into a wide nonreactive pot and stir to combine. Put the pan over medium-low heat and cook until juice starts to run from the rhubarb, stirring consistently. Then, increase the heat to high and continue to cook, stirring, until the mixture reaches a boil.
- Lower the heat a bit and boil for a few minutes, until the rhubarb begins to soften but still holds its shape. You should have a good deal of liquid in the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the rhubarb pieces to a large bowl, leaving as much liquid in the pan as possible. Position a fine-mesh strainer over the rhubarb and set aside.
- Put the cherries in the rhubarb liquid and set over high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches a boil. Decrease the heat slightly and cook until the cherries have shriveled and the foam turns a dark rose color (5 to 8 minutes).
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cherries to the strainer above the reserved rhubarb pieces. Press down on the cherries to get all of the juice from them. Discard the cherries.
- Add the cooked rhubarb pieces and cherry liquid back into the remaining liquid in the preserving pan. Place the pan over high heat and cook, stirring frequently. Lower the heat to medium and stir until the jam has thickened and the rhubarb has mostly lost its shape (around 10 to 15 minutes). Skim off as much white foam as possible while cooking.
- To test the jam, remove a spoon from the freezer and put a small dollop onto the spoon. Return the spoon to the freezer for 3-4 minutes. If the jam is gloppy and runs slowly when you nudge it and turn the spoon upside down, your jam is nearly done. If it runs or is too watery, continue to cook and then test on another freezer spoon.
- Turn off the heat from the jam. Don’t stir. Skim all the remaining foam from the surface of the jam.
Are you storing it?
Using a stainless steel spoon or a ladle to transfer the jam into its storage containers. Let cool on the counter before putting into the refrigerator. Keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.
Are you canning it?
Ladle into oven sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. (To sterilize your jars in the oven, heat your oven to 250 degrees before placing your jars and lids onto cookie sheets. Keep in the oven for at least 30 minutes, but longer is fine, too.)
After filling your jars and securing the lids (use gloves if the jars are too hot to handle) carefully put the jars back on the cookie sheet(s) for 15 minutes.
Remove the jars from the oven, keeping them on their sheet(s). Put the sheet on a wire rack and cool them overnight. Test the seal and place any that didn’t seal into the refrigerator. Store the rest in a cool place for up to 1 year.