At the farmer’s market this morning, I convinced a woman to buy the last of the rhubarb and freeze it for a pie. She was hovering near the rhubarb box and asked the vendor how long rhubarb would be in season. The vendor (clearly not a farmer, and new to the stand) said she wasn’t sure, but she thought the season was short (it’s not). I told the woman that rhubarb likes cool weather, so when it gets really hot, the plants go south quickly, but that a well-managed plot can go into August. She told me that her daughter was visiting in mid-July and that rhubarb pie was her favorite. I said, “You could always freeze some now for pie later.” The woman’s eyes lit up and a big smile spread across her face. “Of course! I hadn’t thought of that!” She proceeded to gather up all of the remaining rhubarb in the box and plop it in her bag.
I love stuff like this. Something so simple: freeze fruit for a pie out of season, yet if you don’t do it often, it simply doesn’t occur to you. The look on her face was brilliant: you know that look, when someone offers you the happy, simple, easy solution to a minor problem and you think, “Of course!” She asked me a few more questions, “Should I thaw it before I use it for the pie?” How should I freeze it?” and I gave her some tips, “Chop it into ½-inch pieces, then freeze in a Ziploc. Thaw first, then add sugar for the pie recipe; you might need a bit of extra cornstarch to thicken it as the freeze/thaw can make it a little more watery.”
This is the point at which, if I were a savvy blogger intent on building my “brand,” I would whip out a Local Kitchen business card and tell her that she could read all about it on my blog. (Not that I actually have a rhubarb pie recipe made from frozen rhubarb. Even though I’m sure I’ve done that many times. Bad blogger. Bad.). Not that there is anything wrong with that: it’s just not my thing. Didn’t occur to me, actually. That simple exchange was enough: I made her day by solving the simple problem of how to make a rhubarb pie for her daughter in July; she made my day by being a fellow rhubarb-lover, by taking one small step to preserve the season, and by making a pie for someone she loves.
This is all just a very long-winded way of saying: I was going to buy some rhubarb at the market today, for photogenic verisimilitude, but I sacrificed it for pie in July. And I’d do it again. Much like I would (and probably will, before the season is done) make this jam again: tart-sweet, aggressively rosemary-y, thick and spreadable without any refined sugar. I’m not the biggest fan of honey, to tell you the truth, but it works brilliantly here, taking the edge off of rhubarb’s pucker-power without the sometimes musty, or overpoweringly floral, flavor that honey can impart. The rosemary comes through very strongly (so cut back to 2 stems if you’d like a more subtle flavor) but works wonderfully with the rhubarb, and the orange peel lends not only a pectin boost but also the subtle sweetness of orange: equally at home on toast, with cheese, or slathered on grilled chicken. A keeper.
- 1 and ¾ lbs rhubarb, washed, trimmed and sliced to ¼-inch
- ¼ cup water
- 8 oz (about ⅔ of a cup) local honey
- 3 stems fresh rosemary
- pinch sea salt
- peel and seeds from one medium orange (preferably organic), held in a tea ball or cheesecloth bundle
- Day 1. In a medium stockpot, combine rhubarb, water, honey, rosemary, salt and orange peel, cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, overnight. Make sure to push the orange peel and rosemary stems fully beneath the fruit to infuse with flavor and pectin.
- Day 2. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Transfer fruit to a large, wide preserving pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Taste syrup and adjust sweetener if necessary. Remove rosemary stems. Since my fruit mixture was only an inch deep, I pulled two large pieces of orange peel out of the tea ball and added them to the pot, then discarded the rest. Boil hard, stirring only to prevent sticking, until mixture thickens, will mound on a spoon and you can scrape a clean stripe across the bottom of the pot, about 8 – 10 minutes. It is unlikely that the mixture will achieve a true “set” due to lack of sugar. I pulled mine off the heat at 208 degrees F.
- Discard orange peels. Ladle hot jam into hot jars to ½-inch head space. Bubble jars, wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields about 1 pint.
- This preserve doesn’t truly set up with that jammy consistency, due to the lack of sugar: it is somewhere between a fruit butter and a jam. A bam, perhaps? Nonetheless it is spreadable and not at all runny; all in all a nice texture for a sugar-free preserve.
- If you want to make this 100% local, you could substitute some apple pectin, or simple add half an apple (core & all) at the maceration step.
- This is a small batch, so can easily be doubled or even tripled, if you have a wide enough pan.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, will last for at least a month, probably longer; however, be aware that preserves with no sugar will tend to mold more quickly than those with sugar added.
Spring into early summer.