Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rhubarb Season

Yesterday, I cut my first stalks of rhubarb from the garden. It wasn't actually because I wanted rhubarb just then. The rhubarb plant--a gift from my neighbor Pat at the community garden the summer after I moved and before I knew there actually was some rhubarb already planted --is quite massive now, and as it's grown, it's been shading the tiny lettuce plants growing near it. That might be good later on, when it's hotter, but now, with this spring of variable weather, I thought the little lettuces could use some sun. I was also putting in a row of red onions and one of shallots, and cutting some rhubarb cleared a bit more space for them. So, now I have a pound or two of rhubarb stalks in the fridge, waiting for me to turn it into something.

I'm not always that adventurous when it comes to rhubarb, though I did see an enticing photo of rhubarb ice cream over at the Kittalog the other day that looked very tempting. (If only I had a functional ice cream maker--if I didn't have to get a new lawn mower and a new dehumidifier, maybe I'd get a new ice cream maker.) The only strawberries we can get at the moment are from California, so I'm less inclined to make strawberry-rhubarb things until the strawberries are local. Or, you know, at least from the east coast. (While I have lovely strawberries in my garden, they're not all that plentiful. For the past few summers, the June ritual has been that in the morning, I wander out into the garden in my pajamas with a teacup or a medium sized ramekin and pick just enough strawberries for my breakfast. Last summer, I left for Ragdale in the midst of strawberry season, and I reluctantly told my housesitter to eat what strawberries remained because I knew they wouldn't still be around when I came back. That's the thing with truly seasonal produce--it forces you to be generous with your bounty. There is a limited window of time in which to be greedy about it, and if you have to miss the window, you might as well offer it to someone else.)

Anyway, what I'm almost certain I'll make, at least with this first batch of rhubarb, is my ritual rhubarb dish, the one I tasted once and then spent many years attempting to recreate -- rhubarb-ginger jam.

In the interests of full disclosure (and perhaps self-promotion), I should say that I wrote an essay about this rhubarb dish, and it was published in The Washington Post almost exactly a year ago. The essay, with recipe, is linked here.

I'd sent my boss the link to the essay, and she'd given it to her husband to read, and apparently, he'd said, "Yes, of course, the essay is beautifully written, but now I really want some of the jam." And so I gave her a little container of it to give to him, and he was just delighted. I saw them at a gathering for a retiring colleague, and the husband rushed over to me and began to rhapsodize. He kept saying,"It's so subtle, that slight tang of the ginger, and they're both such strong flavors, but they balance each other out so perfectly" and on and on. Although he is a professor of English and Russian, he was not particularly articulate about the jam, but I knew exactly what he meant. I feel the same way about it.

Rhubarb-Ginger Jam

Makes about 3 cups

This can be prepared in 45 minutes or less. It can be eaten warm as a compote or chilled as a jam. The recipe appeared in the July 1997 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

From Rita Newell, innkeeper at Reading House in Watkins Glen, N.Y.


2pounds rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
2to 2 1/2 cups sugar, according to taste
cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger

zest of 1 lemon


Combine the ingredients in medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium and cook at least 20 minutes (it may take as long as 40 minutes), stirring often, until the mixture thickens and mounds on a spoon.


Lisa said...

Oh, thank you for that. I don't have rhubarb in my yard -- something I ought to rectify, since it would certainly grow well there -- but it's around at the farmer's market and Fairway, and that jam sounds really good.

Tea said...

Oh, wow, this sounds amazing. I am clearly going to have to go get some more rhubarb. Lucky you for having it in your yard. Maybe I'll get a plant as well.


Maya said...

i really wnat to make this! i love ginger and ive never had rhubarb except in sobet once, but i love the sound of this.