The Sweetness of Spring
Lately, I’ve been craving a back yard. The latest stretch of rainy days hasn’t made the outdoors as enticing or the green grass, flowering trees and lilacs as vibrant. But last weekend when the sun was shining I walked around the neighborhood, noticing the variety of gardens and lawns, and catching glimpses of the more private spaces with grills, hammocks, chairs or just a lawn for walking barefoot and sprawling on the grass, staring up at the summer sky.
I’ve done the best I can with the patches of grass and pavement behind our building. Unfortunately it is more of a parking lot than a yard. Although I appreciate the small parks in our neighborhood and the many parks around the area, I am feeling kind of selfish about this one. I haven’t given up on my dreams of a farm or vibrant urban garden, but right now I’d settle for a little patch of land to call my own. I want to sit outside and read a book, maybe sprawled on the grass with no concern for the neighbors. I want a hammock and a rhubarb plant.
I’ve reached that part of the spring where I want to make everything with rhubarb. This has come up before, a few times. It never fails, when rhubarb arrives I have at least 7 recipes that I want to try. Rhubarb is one of the first locally grown edibles to arrive in the markets and unlike other stalks or fruit, you can’t eat rhubarb by the handful or just toss it in a salad. I am entranced by the tart, distinct taste that fills my senses with spring and I want to use it in as many ways as I can.
With my first (and hopefully not last) bunches of rhubarb I made curd (good but not rhubarb-y enough) and rhubarb vanilla jam. I was tempted by a recipe for rhubarb soda (I’ve made this one before), and then I saw this rhubarb buckle and I really would like to have some rhubarb compote to eat with yogurt, as needed (there’s also this rhubarb coffee cake which never disappoints). Clearly I need a rhubarb plant in my yard where I can harvest the stalks for all of these recipes. Of course I would also need a strawberry patch, some raspberry bushes, soil for planting peas and growing tomatoes.
In the meantime, I’ve got four jars of rhubarb vanilla jam which will not make up for my lack of backyard, but they will remind me of the sweetness of spring whenever I taste them.
Rhubarb Vanilla Jam
This recipe is adapted from Put Em Up by Sherrie Brooks Vinton. I added a few vanilla beans which I had saved after scraping out the seeds and using them for another recipe. If you don’t have “used” vanilla beans you could use a new one (scrape in the seeds and add the pod) or leave out the vanilla, it will still taste wonderful. I’ve included instructions for canning the jam but you could also freeze it or refrigerate it, though it won’t keep for as long.
2 pounds rhubarb stalks
2 cups sugar
2-3 vanilla beans (without seeds — see above)
Wash the rhubarb stalks, trim off any bad ends and slice them into 1/2 inch pieces. Place the rhubarb in a non reactive pot. Add the sugar and vanilla beans and stir to coat the rhubarb evenly with sugar. Cover and let the rhubarb macerate for 6-8 hours.
When the time is almost up, wash 4 half pint jars and lids. Prepare your canning pot, filling it with water and bringing it to a boil. Place the jars in the pot to heat. Set everything else aside.
Place the rhubarb and sugar over high heat until it comes to a boil. Turn the temperature down slightly but continue boiling for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla beans. When your canning pot has come to a boil, remove the jars. Place the lids in a bowl and add enough boiling water to cover them. Fill each jar, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, cover with lid and screw band. Place each jar in the canning pot and when it returns to a boil, process for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, let sit for five minutes, then remove from the pot. Let the jars cool completely, then check to make sure they have sealed.
Store in a cool dry place for up to one year.