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Vanilla rhubarb butter jamIt’s a late cool spring in SE Michigan: only this week have I seen the first crocus blooms. I don’t have much expectation of local produce yet. There are a few local farmers who have hoop houses – and today my trip to the Farmers Market brought me the season’s first rhubarb, which I made into my very first preserve of 2014: vanilla-rhubarb butter. What a nice way to begin the canning year!

Let me point you to Marisa McClellan’s website, Food in Jars. Her fuss-free approach is just what I like in my own kitchen. She’s recently published her second book, Preserving by the Pint, which is every bit as wonderful as her first Food in Jars. Both are highly recommended! I began with her recipe for Vanilla-Rhubarb Jam with Earl Grey, and adapted it to my own taste. I prefer a smooth spread, so I use an immersion blender to make a ‘fruit butter’ texture. In two batches of this jam, made a day apart, I had different tea in my pot: in one I used Earl Grey tea, and in the other, Keemun (a China black tea).

Vanilla-Rhubarb Butter with tea  adapted from Marisa McClellan

  • 8 c chopped rhubarb  (from about 2.5 lb rhubarb stalks)
  • 4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 c strong tea (Marisa’s original specifies Earl Grey tea, I have also used Keemun, and like both versions) 
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • pinch salt
  • 1 3-oz packet liquid pectin

Prepare your jars and lids as usual; heat water for a boiling-water bath.

In a 4-5 quart nonreactive pot, combine the rhubarb, sugar, and tea; bring this to a boil. Add the vanilla innards, lemon juice, and salt to the pot, and let the mixture cook gently, bubbling, over medium heat 15 to 20 minutes, until the rhubarb begins to break down.

Whiz it with an immersion blender until the mixture is very smooth. Add the packet of liquid pectin and increase heat to high. Bring the jam to a rolling boil, and let it boil vigorously 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, so that the bottom doesn’t burn.

Remove pot from the heat and ladle jam into prepared jars. Wipe jar rims and apply lids and bands. If your last jar is only partly filled, just stick a lid on it and refrigerate.

Process the full jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.