The First Time I Cooked Rhubarb
It was interesting, to say the least. I had received a large bunch of stalks from my mother’s garden, excited to cook with some, I hurried into the kitchen and started following a basic recipe for Rhubarb Jam. I was intrigued, and surprised by the way that it cooked down, it lost its beautiful pink color and turned a dingy brown, then back to pink. The fibers in the rhubarb cooked into what looked like a stringy, snotty mess, and it gave off a ton of water. As it cooked down, it became thick and started to bubble and spit geysers of molten rhubarb goo everywhere, which was a joy to clean up. Its Flavor was odd too, so tanic, acidic like sorrel, but different. I wondered how people ever thought to eat the stuff. My “jam” turned out ok, but if I remember correctly I had to throw a ton of sugar in it to try and make it palatable. Eventually though, working intensively with it the next spring opened up the windows of culinary possibility locked in this strange plant. It became transformed into vinaigrettes, cooked down and pureed with honey, then mixed with butter and whisked into traditional French glace de viande sauce, even pickled and served with salads. I began to like its sour, bright flavor, which is similar to that of sorrel, but much more tannic.
A Midwest Tradition
Rhubarb jam in particular is one of those things many people have fond memories of, especially where we are in the midwest. Making it in many families is a spring tradition, a promise of new growth and all that will come with it. Riding the tails of the DIY trend, traditions like home canning are coming back in to style, which I think is awesome. How special is it that you can greet a neighbor with a jar of homemade jam or preserves, and perhaps in the next couple months, receive a little plastic bag on your doorstep filled with tomatoes and zucchini? For the past couple of years, whenever I move somewhere new, I have practiced a tradition of surprising my new neighbors with homemade goodies and canned goods. Sometimes I get strange looks, like the year I gave out kimchee, which I think was a hint I should probably not start out introducing myself by saying:
“Hi I’m Alan, I fermented insanely spicy cabbage and daikon radishes in a crock in my basement for you, enjoy!”
Much better to start out by giving a simple can of tomato sauce or some sweet jam or preserves. This year, my closest neighbors will be receiving the simple recipe I’m about to outline for you, a interesting and delicious Rhubarb-Ramp Jam. Sound strange? Not at all. Indeed you would not think of garlic and rhubarb naturally, although there are ways to get around that, but as I have mentioned before, ramps lend themselves to sweet/savory preparations as well, as in the sweet and sour ramp gastrique recipe HERE. Ramps are strongly flavored, but not as strong as garlic, which means you can use more of them, and their flavor mellows when cooked. I use a special technique to highlight the ramps flavor and give the jam textural interest as well: half of the ramps are stirred in raw at the end, underlining the rampy flavor and giving a pleasant, slightly crunchy tooth to the jam, a method I borrowed from a sweet and spicy scallion jam recipe invented by a local celebrity chef I admire.
Here is the kicker
Instead of only being good on toast or as a spread like regular rhubarb jam is used, this recipe can also be as a condiment for rich meats (like pork) and as the base of a wonderfully interesting sauce, which i will provide a recipe for as well. Regular rhubarb jam could be used like this, but only in small amounts as it is so tannic, the ramps added in this recipe allow it much more versatility in the kitchen. Making sure to use the red stalks on the ramps also highlights the beautiful pink color of rhubarb jam, as ramp stems will turn anything they are stewed or pickled with, including ramp bulbs, a funky hot pink color.
Honeyed Rhubarb-Ramp Jam
Makes 1 quart, enough for 4 half pint canning jars (scale as needed)
- 10 Cups chopped rhubarb, washed and cleaned of any viscous brown tissue
- 2 Cups ramp bulbs and stems, sliced thinly, about 1/4 inch
- 1 Tsp salt
- 2 cups honey of your choice, like wildflower (Do not use buckwheat or chestnut honey! They are too strongly flavored)
- In a deep sided saute pan, cook half of the ramps in just a touch of oil with the salt added for 3-4 minutes, until the ramps are soft and translucent.
- Next add the rhubarb and the honey and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is completely broken down and the mixture is thick and “jammy”, about 10 minutes on medium heat.
- Lastly, turn off the heat and stir in the reserved ramps, stirring well to incorporate them.
Taste the finished jam for salt and sugar. If you want a sweeter jam, add more sugar. I tweaked the sugar proportions in this to produce a slightly less sweet jam since the ramps are involved, but fear not, it is plenty sweet. Most rhubarb jams contain horrendous amounts of sugar anyway, this is also why I chose honey as the sweetener as well, its flavor is more complex than plain jane sugar, which compliments the special flavor of the ramps very well. Using plain sugar would make this jam much less interesting.
Rhubarb Ramp Jam Sauce for Game Birds, Chicken, or Pork
Makes around 2 cups, enough sauce to garnish 8 entree plates or more, depending on how much you like.
- 1 qt chicken or other meat stock
- 1/2 cup Honeyed Rhubarb-Ramp Jam
- 3 tbsp cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- salt to taste
- In a small stock pot or high sided saute pan, cook the meat stock until it is reduced by 3/4.
- Add the Rhubarb-Ramp Jam and heat through
- Lastly, whisk in the cold butter and cook, stirring constantly with a whisk until the sauce is creamy and thickens, about 2-3 minutes, if you notice the sauce start to break and the butter fat separate while it cooks, add a tbsp of cool water and whisk vigorously around the sides of the pan, keeping the heat at medium to medium low, the sauce will re-emulsify and thicken itself. Serve immediately.
- If this cooks down to much it will be like a chutney, which is ok too, if it gets to thick for your liking and is not looking “saucey”, just add a tbsp or so of water, incorporate, and reheat. I would not use this with beef, veal bison, or venison etc.