I have fallen in love with vanilla beans. The fragrant stains I get on my fingertips when I scrape out the seeds. The way it’s scent tracks upstairs and around doors, filling my entire apartment with its scent. The tell-tale flecks in reddish peach-coloured jam, clear enough to reveal the seeds. I have used vanilla beans before and they were just alright, truth be told. The beans I bought from a store I do love were expensive, if organic. They were also a trifle dry and wrestling the seeds free ended with more under my nails than in the pot. My previous reticence to buy and near apathy have been totally vanquished. I have found the perfect source for vanilla beans, plump and so very full of the very heady essence of what makes vanilla so intoxicating. We pick up our gems from spice merchant Costas Halaverzos at the Brewery Market (the Historic Halifax Market).
These beans are so good I wanted to keep them all to myself so I could make the most fabulous desserts and jams of all. I had dreams of being the greatest baker, a superhero if you will and there may have been a daydreamed cape. That’s not very kind behaviour to anyone, however, so there you go. Go visit Costas.
Then, you should start by making this jam. I know it might be late in the season for rhubarb but you might score some more if you check Pete’s Frootique in Halifax. I measure my fruit by weight because I tend to freak out the entire time I am making jam, concerned about ratios and safety and “Oh dear god, don’t let me poison my family”. Don’t let this deter you from this jam, it’s my quirk. Canning is all about safety and if you have any doubts whatsoever, refer to the National Center for Home Preservation. I always make a visit to a site before hauling out the jars and fruit.
This is my largest batch of jam to date, I’m much more of a small batch girl. I tend to can whatever fruit we seem to have a surplus of at the time in the fridge and fruit bowl. Due to a very kind gift of rhubarb from a friend (in addition to market plunders and CSA) and a brimming bowl of apples, I had more fruit than usual to dedicate to a recipe. In light of this, I completely freaked myself out by the amount of sugar I ended up using (apparently I freak out easily). It does not seem possible to have used 13 cups of sugar, otherwise known as the dastardly 1300 grams of sugar or 2 lbs 13 ounces, but I did. It is possible and it is what I was supposed to do. A general ratio of 1:1 is called for when making jam, the chopped rhubarb and apples when combined are 1300 grams (or 2 lbs. 13 oz) of fruit. Using a measurement that rocketed into four-digit territory is what got me, but we’re all good and still get to wear our superhero capes.
The Vanilla Rhubarb Jam
Yield: 6-8 250 mL jars, depending on how much your spouse/partner swipes to taste.
To begin, wash and sterilize your jars. To sterilize: Boil for 15 minutes in a covered pot. Leave the jars in the pot so that they remain hot (and sterile) for the jam. Don’t boil the snap lids, it can loosen the glue too much.
860 g chopped rhubarb (1 lb 14 oz)
450 g apples, peeled and diced (15 oz)
one vanilla bean
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1300 g sugar (2 lbs 13 oz)
1/2 cup water
one packet liquid pectin
1. In a large, non-reactive pot combine the rhubarb, apples and sugar. Split the vanilla bean down the centre lengthwise and scrape, add both the seeds and pod to the fruit. Add lemon juice and half cup of water.
2. Cook on medium heat, stirring until the rhubarb and apples start to break down. Continue to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is totally broken down. Bring to a boil.
3. Remove the vanilla pod.* Remove from heat and stir in the liquid pectin. Continue to stir for 7 minutes, there’s not much to skim off.
4. Ladle into hot jars and seal. The rings should only be finger tip tight: Don’t put any oomph into it.
5. Process in a boil water canner for 10 minutes.
*Rinse that baby off and store it in a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar. Or, do as Mr did and swipe one for a bottle of whiskey, it mellows out the flavours and adds a beautiful touch.