Vanilla Rhubarb Jam

Ever wonder what is the up side to being startled awake at 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday because the sirens are sounding, warning of impending torrential rain, wind, and hail?  Aside from the advance warning to quickly shut the windows and brace ourselves for the possibility probability of water in the basement, it turns out the upside is sometimes the satisfying "pop" of a canning jar sealing.

When I finally made it out to the garden on Sunday afternoon to survey the aftermath of the early morning storm, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my seedlings survived the hail without a lot of damage.  The newly transplanted tomatoes looked happy as can be.  The broccoli and brussels sprouts seedlings lost a leaf or two, but overall, they fared pretty well.  Even the strawberry blossoms were surprisingly fine.  But then, there was the rhubarb.  The poor, poor rhubarb.  It appeared to have taken the brunt of the force of the wind and rain, so when life gives you a storm...make rhubarb jam!
By the time I had cleaned up the rhubarb patch, Sunday's harvest weighed in at nearly five pounds!  It was definitely time to pull out the canner and select a recipe or two to try out.  4 hours, 3 recipes, and 2 batches of canning later, the storm carnage had been successfully transformed into one satisfying afternoon of canning.

At the top of my "must try" list for this season, was this recipe for Vanilla Rhubarb Jam.  I just plain sounded good!  I did my research, checking out similar recipes and reading up on the acidity and pectin level of rhubarb.  I made only a couple of minor adjustments that would not reduce the basic fruit-sugar-acid-pectin formula, which are reflected in the recipe below.  The original recipe called for a whole vanilla bean, and while I'm sure that would definitely add to the flavor, it's just not something I keep on hand, nor is it high on my list of justifiable splurges.  A couple of the other recipes I looked at indicated vanilla extract could be substituted, so I compromised by breaking into the bottle of double strength vanilla I had stashed away in the back of the pantry (this was a good call).   I also followed the lead of the original recipe, and added a little more lemon juice to keep the flavor nice and bright.
The other significant change came after reading in a couple of different places about how macerating the rhubarb and sugar prior to cooking the jam concentrates the flavor and improves the over all texture of the rhubarb as it cooks down.  The time called for varied from recipe to recipe, with the majority calling for letting the rhubarb and sugar sit overnight, but since I did not exactly plan ahead for this day of canning, I just combined the rhubarb and sugar and let it sit while I made the other two recipes (about 3 hours).  It will take a few comparison batches to determine if I can contribute it to this or not, but the texture of this jam was outstanding.  

The flavor is outstanding as well!  The flavor is bright and not overly sweet.  The vanilla adds a richness that is simple and decadent.  This would be a good jam to use for thumbprint cookies or with shortbread, but personally, I have been loving adding a spoonful to my oatmeal in the morning.  
Rhubarb Vanilla Jam
5 cups rhubarb, cut into half inch pieces
2.5 cups sugar
1 cup water
4 teaspoons double strength vanilla extract
Juice from 1 lemon
pinch of salt
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine rhubarb and sugar in a large pot, cover with a clean tea towel and set aside for several hours (as long as overnight, if desired). Add water and cook on medium-high heat until boiling.  Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and salt, and cook for an additional 10 minutes before stirring in the pectin.  After the pectin has been added, continue to cook until the jam coats the back of a spoon in an even sheet.  

Transfer jam into hot sterilized jars, leaving half an inch headspace.  Wipe the mouth of the jar clean before placing lid and ring on the jar. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove and let cool undisturbed for 24 hours. 

Yields 5 half pint jars

Recipe adapted from Food in Jars

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