Keynote Blogger: Andreae Prozesky, Food Nerd, The Scope
I’m not a rich woman. I probably never will be. I take my feelings of wealth where I can find them. The gleam of apple jelly through the criss-cross pattern of my favourite canning jars is likely as close as I’ll ever get to a real diamonds. My translucent bottles of berries, cherries, plums, and rhubarb are like rubies and amethysts and garnets and topaz to me. Peering into my pantry, I feel as though I’ve just walked into Tiffany’s.
Jewels and stones might make an outfit, but homemade brandied fruit makes a Christmas trifle. Jams and jellies beat diamonds any day when it comes to toast-topping, and rhubarb sauce over ice cream is as splendid a thing as anything I can think of.
For the last two years, I’ve been canning just about anything that fits into a jam jar. Some of my experiments have been great successes – blackcurrant jelly, damson jam, pineapple rhubarb conserve with walnuts, and balsamic fig chutney have all been big hits. There have been failures, too – flavourless green tomato relish, the way-too-big batch of grapefruit marmalade (how much grapefruit marmalade can I eat in over a winter?), and the entirely regrettable garlic-chive jelly.
I haven’t bought jam in a shop in well over a year. I’m not sure this has made much of an impact on my finances (sugar and jars do cost something, even if the fruit is usually free), but it’s a source of some pride, and it’s also one thing I don’t have to kick myself for forgetting at the grocery store. Commercial jam may taste like fruit, yeah, but homemade jam tastes like sun-warmed fruit picked with care in a field or off the side of the highway or behind your house. It’s a nuance that’s hard to describe, but you know it when you taste it.
One of the things I can most often, and with the greatest success, is rhubarb. It’s as local as produce comes around here, much of it growing completely untended in people’s backyards. We’re nearing the tail end of rhubarb season now, but there’s till plenty to go around. Maybe you, like me, still have a bunch sitting in the freezer, chopped and cleaned and waiting to be transformed into something useful. Rhubarb jam is delicious, especially with almond butter on a bagel. Rhubarb chutney is excellent with crackers and cheese, or over a baked brie (if you have chutney in your pantry, you can always say, “I’ll bring the starters” when you’re invited to a pot-luck).
But my greatest rhubarb triumph came a few weeks ago, when I made some vanilla honey rhubarb sauce to sell at the farmers’ market. Ever since, I’ve had people e-mailing and phoning and stopping me in the street to talk about it. It wasn’t any fuss to make, and my goodness was it delicious. There is some time management involved, but none of the individual steps are at all difficult. It makes a beautiful topping for pound cake or ice cream (or both), or, according to one happy customer, as a dip for, ahem, mini-doughnuts.
Vanilla honey rhubarb sauce
(makes about 6 250-mL jars)
1200 g rhubarb, cleaned and chopped (to help you visualize, this amount fits in one of the smaller-size plastic spinach containers from the grocery store)
900 g organic cane sugar
200 g organic honey
2 vanilla pods
1. Two days before you plan to make your sauce, put your rhubarb in a big pot and cover it with the sugar. Cover and place it in the fridge, stirring every now and then (like 3 or 2 times a day) to help the sugar dissolve.
2. At the same time, warm your honey in a small pan over low heat to make it a little more liquid. Split vanilla beans open with the tip of a paring knife, and scrape seeds into the honey. Add pods to honey and remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature, then pour honey into a clean jar and cover. Set in a dark cupboard to steep.
3. When you’re ready to make your sauce, remove rhubarb from fridge and place on stove. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that accumulates on the surface. Simmer until it starts to thicken, about 20 minutes. Stir in honey, removing pods.
4. Pour hot sauce into clean jars and process 10 minutes. If this is your first time canning, there are great instructions here: www.homecanning.ca.