I feel like this has been the spring of failures. First my body failed me; I’ve been sidelined from the activities I love due to some chronic health issues. While I’m slowly getting back to normal, it’s been… slow. I’ve had a few friends let me down, and I haven’t been the best friend either. Not on anything big, but the little things add up. I’ve set goals, monthly and weekly, and haven’t hit them. I’ve messed up quite a few things in the kitchen. And over the top of all of this is the feeling that spring completely failed us. Months of unrelenting cold and snow, and then the sudden, unceremonious unfurling of greenness, hurling itself into being, even though it feels as though the sun hasn’t even properly shone yet. All of this failure has been a little bit exhausting.
The failed kitchen experiments have been particularly frustrating. I’m realizing how much better I feel without gluten in my diet. I’m amassing a whole shelf of flours and starches – at last count I had something like 15 different kinds! – but gluten-free baking really is a whole new world. I want to avoid adding gums, but I can feel my resolve breaking down. There have been cookies that were cake-like, and cookies that spread into a giant mass on the pan; miserable hockey-puck muffins; cardboard pizza crusts; an attempted crumble where the “crumb” sank into blueberries and rhubarb like the lost city of Atlantis, and then was completely forgotten about in the oven and burnt to a crisp. And don’t forget the particularly disastrous upside-down cake that I absentmindedly assembled in a Springform pan. (It actually hurts to write that one “out loud.”) I’m still chipping bits of charred mess off the bottom of my stove. Even my trusty loaves of (completely gluten-filled) sourdough have been falling flat – literally.
AND since I’m moaning, I’ll point out that while the flavor of this preserve is very, very good, it’s looser than a typical jam. Another failure. I cooked and cooked and cooked, over double the time given in the recipe, but still I ended up with a very loose preserve, despite my addition of a cup of apple pectin stock. All of the extra cooking I did after adding the fruit gave me a lower yield than the original recipe – 5 half-pints instead of 7 – and I’m still scratching my head at how the original recipe could work.
But the triumph here is that the combination of rhubarb and sour cherry is really winning, bright and tart, and lifting me above all of the little let-downs. I particularly love that I was able to put some of my husband’s excellent homebrew to use. The balance of sour and sweet with some slight hoppiness is exactly what I need to cope with some of these feelings of inadequacy. Ah, emotional eating at its finest.
Hopefully I’ll have some recipes to share, and SOON. In the meantime, I’ll be slathering this preserve with butter on top of pieces of crusty – albeit, flat – sourdough bread.
Rhubarb + Sour Cherry Beer Preserves
Adapted from The Preservation Kitchen
Notes: I changed this up from the original in a few ways. First, I used 2.25 pounds of fresh rhubarb and 0.75 pounds of frozen sour cherries, as my rhubarb is really green and I was afraid of ending up with a greenish-gray jam. *shudder* I considered using strawberries, but I’m really glad I went with cherries- the tanginess of the two marry perfectly. I also used a blonde ale that my husband homebrewed– but the called-for wheat beer is going to be a bit sweeter and less hoppy. I added an extra 1/4 cup of sugar, left out the lemon zest, and instead added 1 cup of apple pectin stock and let the whole mess macerate with the lemon halves in an attempt to eek out some additional pectin. Here is a link on apple pectin stock, and Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation is where I got the idea of macerating overnight with a lemon.
2-1/4 pounds diced rhubarb
3/4 pound frozen sour cherries
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 cups wheat beer
1 cup apple pectin stock (optional)
the juice of 1 lemon
In a heavy-bottomed pan, combine all ingredients and stir. Throw the juiced lemon halves in as well, but try to pick the seeds out first. Optional step- let macerate in the fridge for 4-6 hours. (This will extract more of the juice and hopefully more of the pectin out of the lemon, slightly changing your cooking time.) Bring ingredients to a low simmer, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, cover with a lid, and place in the fridge overnight or for up to 5 days.
When ready to make the jam, remove the lemon halves. Place a small saucer in the freezer. Use a sieve or slotted spoon to separate the juice from the fruit solids; return the juice to the heavy pan and set the fruit aside. Bring the juice to a rapid simmer, stirring frequently, and allow to reduce by almost half. (Virant said 12 minutes; mine took closer to 20 minutes.) Stir in the fruit solids and return to a simmer. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. While your jam is cooking, prepare 5-6 half-pint jars and lids for a boiling water bath. As the jam thickens, use a spoon to place a small amount of jam on the frozen saucer and return to the freezer for 60-90 seconds. When the jam is gelling on the plate, it’s done.
*Virant says to cook until the jam reaches 215 degrees F and lightly coats the back of the spoon, approximately 10 minutes. In my experience, the spoon-coating consistency results in more of a sauce than a jam. I cooked for over 25 minutes, stirring frequently, and I personally prefer the freezer gel test.
Once you’re satisfied with the texture of your jam, pour the jam into half-pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the water bath and place on a towel; leave for 12-24 hours without disturbing. Remove lid rings for storage.