rhubarb ginger jam with vanilla bean
The summer after I graduated college, I lived in the spare room of my friend A’s house in West Hollywood, working at Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe in Santa Monica and volunteering at a Middle Eastern cultural center in Hollywood. I graduated in 2009, the year after the financial crash, and the “real job” that I felt I’d been promised if I worked hard, got good grades, and landed solid internships, just wasn’t materializing. I applied to over 100 jobs and was rejected for a Fulbright before I finally decided to up and move across the country in October and try my luck in DC.
And as you know, that story has a happy ending.
Although I felt uncertain and frustrated about my future prospects that summer, I also knew that it was a very precious period of time. I wasn’t tied down by obligations, family, or a boyfriend, and I dreamed of moving to Indonesia – just because I could. My friends and I would gather in our backyard for tarot readings and barbecues beneath the climbing bougainvillea. My graduation present was a bike, and after my car broke down for good, I’d navigate the wide, hilly streets of LA on my black and cream Jamis coda.
I was just learning to cook well – beyond my hitherto diet of stir-fries and cookies – and my bakery gig with the free croissants, baguettes, and fruit galettes offered ample inspiration. We had a meyer lemon tree and a beautiful fig tree in the backyard, and that summer A and I collected bowls and bowls of fruit that would adorn the tables, bookshelves, and kitchen counters like statuary.
We started experimenting with our abundance, making lemon bars and lemon curd and a fig preserve. I didn’t know how to put up anything, so there were no Moroccan preserved lemons or canned jars of figs lined up in a row. Instead, we would take our simple jam and store it in the fridge.
It was during this summer that I stumbled upon Sue Dickman’s essay about her summer after college in The Washington Post. In it, she included a recipe for the rhubarb ginger jam she and her girlfriends would make during her own precious post-college summer. That article hit me then and it hits me now with its honesty and relevance, and A and I took her recipe and made gobs of it. It was very, very good.
But after that summer, I never made that jam again.
Skip ahead a few years, and I’ve unearthed Sue’s recipe from the depths of the internet and adapted it for my current tastes. Instead of crystallized ginger, I’ve used fresh, and I’ve added lemon juice for acidity so it can be properly preserved as a shelf-stable jam. I’ve also added seeds from a scraped vanilla bean to lend a mellow, smooth note to this overall spicy and tart jam, but it’s by no means a necessity if you don’t have a vanilla bean lying around.
This jam holds so many memories for me, and it’s so very good, that it’s probably my all-time favorite jam. Enjoy!
rhubarb ginger jam with vanilla bean
3 1/2 lbs. rhubarb, chopped into 1” slices
3 1/2 cups sugar
zest of one organic lemon (scrub the lemon HARD if it’s not organic to get off the wax)
juice of 2 lemons
3 inch knob of ginger, peeled and minced
seeds of 1 scraped vanilla bean
Combine everything in a big witchy pot. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, then reduce to simmer and cook down for 30 minutes plus, until the jam mounds on a spoon. My jam took about an hour. Continue stirring and don’t be tempted to raise the heat, or else it will burn. This jam won’t really pass the wrinkle test like other jams, but still try sticking it in the freezer on a cold plate for 1 minute to gauge if it’s at the consistency you like.
When the jam is thick to your liking, ladle it into hot, sterilized jars, wiping the rims before sealing.
Process half-pint jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, remove, and cool undisturbed for 24 hours. Refrigerate all jars that didn’t seal.
Makes 6+ half pint jars.