|Three different jams, may look alike, but have distinctly different flavors|
We had a lot of rain and overcast last week, keeping me indoors in the afternoons. Afternoon-time is when I usually tackle an extra project for the day. If I can, I get outside and do some gardening. Last week, I didn't have as many opportunities for gardening, so on 3 different days, I decided to make 3 different jams.
In our house, with what we get in abundance, we have our "ordinary" jams, most notably, the wild blackberry jam and the plum jam. I also make jelly every other summer with either red currants or crab apples. Those are ordinary jam/jelly flavors for us. Perhaps because of the abundance of their availability, those flavors hold no special appeal to me, and I just don't eat them.
But I do have a couple of jam flavors that I find truly divine. I love the flavor of homemade strawberry jam, really delicious stuff. And my all-time favorite jam, from my childhood, is raspberry. And now, I have a new extra-favorite flavor, Vanilla-Rhubarb Butter.
My husband has been picking the wild strawberries that grow on our property, and leaving them in the fridge for me to use. Early in the week, I had about a quart of these strawberries to use up, so I made a batch of wild strawberry jam. Wild strawberries have more of the strawberry flavor than cultivated strawberries (especially more than the ones grown for shipping out of state). So these made great jam. I'm not fond of the whole-strawberry-in-my-jam thing, so I rough-chopped them with my immersion blender before cooking (hence the appearance difference from traditional strawberry jam).
We do grow raspberries in our garden. And almost every year, I put off making the jam until too late, and we've eaten almost all of the raspberries, fresh. This year, I just said to myself, "why wait to make the jam?" So rather than having lots of fresh raspberries a couple of nights in a row, I made a batch of jam with almost a quart of the fresh raspberries. I know we'll get out fill of fresh ones, but now I'm certain of some jam for later in the year.
And then on Wednesday, I was working n the garden for part of the afternoon, out weeding by the rhubarb. You know how it is when you're pulling weeds, you have lots of time to think and plan. And that's when I thought to make some Vanilla-Rhubarb Butter. I've seen lots of recipes online for variations of vanilla-rhubarb jam, but I wanted something smoother in texture. As I was thinking there in the garden, I decided I would puree my cooked rhubarb/sugar, and make it into a butter.
Anyways, I made the butter by tossing chopped rhubarb and sugar together in a stainless saucepan, and leaving to sit for a couple of hours. Sugar is a natural humectant, so it draws the water out of fruit. The end result is not needing to add any water or other cooking liquid to the jam. Some recipes will say to allow the fruit and sugar to sit, macerating, overnight. I've found just a couple of hours does the trick. Maybe it's better to allow it to sit overnight? It works for me, this way, so why fix it?!
Okay, back to making Vanilla-Rhubarb Butter. I had a couple of vanilla beans as well as extract on hand. My initial thought was to use the extract. My second thought was to save the extract, as vodka is so expensive in our state, my extract is costly to make. So I bypassed the extract, and just used half of a small-ish vanilla bean.
So, when my rhubarb was ready to cook, I took half of a vanilla bean and pulled it apart, lengthwise, to expose the interior of the bean and infuse more flavor. I stirred the mixture while it cooked. When all was cooked, and the sugar was syrupy and thick, I pulled out the vanilla bean pieces and pureed the whole batch with an immersion blender. I found with the vanilla flavor, that not as much sugar was needed, as a recipe for plain rhubarb jam called for. My initial recipe called for equal parts of sugar and rhubarb. As butter, it was too sweet. So I cooked up some thin-sliced rhubarb stalks until I had a ratio of 3 parts rhubarb to 2 parts sugar. When all of that was done cooking, I pureed once more, until I had just the right flavor.
If you do make a vanilla-fruit jam or butter, while the vanilla bean would look pretty inside the jar, you can also rescue that bean to reuse in subsequent batches throughout summer. I pulled my bean pieces out, rinsed with a bit of water, then bagged up for the freezer. I'll be able to use this same beans a few times this summer. It's flavor may weaken a bit with use, but towards then end, I can always add a bit of extract to subsidize the flavor from the bean, at that time. I kind of think I'll be able to get a lot of flavor from that one bean, though. considering how much flavor you can get from a couple of vanilla beans, when making your own extract.
As for the flavor of this butter, one of my daughters said it tastes like pie filling. It's flavor is divine.
Rhubarb is one of those plentiful garden items, with only a handful of uses in the kitchen. So, this recipe is definitely a keeper for us. I have more than enough rhubarb to make several jars of this butter, give some away, and then have more left for us to use.