Rhubarb Pear Vanilla Jam || Hitchhiking to Heaven

Rhubarb, Pear, and Vanilla Jam

I wanted to do something to soothe myself after last week’s garlic disaster. That garlic jelly was a total loss. When Stewart came home from his travels, it took me a whole day just to get him to smell it. When I held out the greenish yellow goo he looked at me like I was offering him a carton of milk that had been in the back of the fridge for three months, asking him, “Will you smell this and tell me if it’s bad?” When he did finally take a sniff, his body lurched backwards, away from the jar. That’s the way I felt about it, too. The entire batch has gone down the sink.

Now it’s time to move on to better things. Sweeter things. A brand new jam.

This is my first-ever rhubarb. At first I wasn’t sure about using it because, well, it’s a vegetable, and I’m always suspicious of a vegetable until it proves to me that it’s friendly. Rhubarb won me over with one bite. It’s more like a fruit in vegetable clothing — those big red stalks only look like rainbow chard on steroids. What a surprising, fruity tart taste!

My choice of main ingredient was also redeeming in Stewart’s eyes. He stood next to me in the kitchen, happily crunching. “I grew up on rhubarb,” he told me. This summer, when we visit his family’s home in way-upstate New York, he promises we can harvest it wild. (I know I’m a jar addict when in March I’m already planning what I’ll can while I’m traveling this summer: Rhubarb in New York. Blueberries, rose hips, and cranberries — both high bush and low bush  — in Alaska.)

I adapted this recipe from a book I got at the library last week, Preserving Nature’s Bounty, by Frances Bissell. (It’s out of print, but available used from a variety of sources.) I used Pomona’s Universal Pectin to cut the sugar almost in half. (I learned to make jam from someone who always uses Pomona’s, so that’s what I often do, too. I like the way less sugar lets you taste more fruit.) To determine exactly how much Pomona’s to use, I made a few calculations based on the number of cups of mashed fruit, following the guidelines on Pomona’s packaging insert for “developing your own recipes.” The set turned out great, and I really like the flavor.

It’s worth noting that Pomona’s, used as directed, will often result in a set that looks too soft until the jam is completely cool. (The package insert warns about this, but not in an obvious place.) When I first started making jam with Pomona’s, I freaked out about the soft set more than once, and consequently overdid it on the pectin. That meant the set was too firm and the taste was a bit chalky. Now, I trust the package insert and still my nervous hands. Patience pays off.

Rhubarb, Pear, and Vanilla Jam with Pomona’s Pectin

2 pounds rhubarb, rinsed and cut into 1 inch pieces
6 pears (I used Bartletts), peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup water
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup lemon juice (I used Meyers)
2 cups sugar to start, adding more to taste
6 teaspoons Pomona’s Pectin calcium water
4 1/2 teaspoons Pomona’s Pectin powder
[Edited to add: The calcium water mix and the pectin powder are both included in the Pomona’s Universal Pectin box.]

Put the rhubarb and pears into your heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot with the water and simmer until the fruit is soft. (This took a while — at least twenty minutes, maybe more. Sorry, I forgot to set the timer. Toward the end I mushed some of the firmer pieces against the side of the pot with my wooden spoon to help things along.) While the fruit is simmering, measure two cups of sugar into a bowl and thoroughly mix in the pectin powder. Set the sugar and pectin mix aside. Also, have an extra cup of sugar at hand in case you want to make the mix sweeter at the end.

When the fruit is soft, add the lemon juice, vanilla bean, and calcium water to the pot. Stir well and bring to a boil. Mix in the sugar and stir vigorously for a couple of minutes to make sure all the pectin is dissolved. Taste what you’ve got and add more sugar if you like. (I added an extra 1/2 cup here, for a total of 2 1/2 cups of sugar this time.) Return the mixture to a boil and remove it from the heat.

Remove the vanilla bean from the mixture, rinse it, and cut it into pieces. Add one piece to each jar of jam.

I left 1/4 inch headspace and processed ten minutes in a water bath canner.

The original recipe said this would yield 6 half-pint jars (and that was using 4 cups of sugar) but I ended up with 8 half-pints and change. My guess is that this happened because Pomona’s doesn’t require prolonged boiling at the end to achieve a good set, so less liquid evaporates. Sound plausible?

The last thing I want to say is that I’m excited that I finally started to experiment with making my own canning labels. This is a first attempt, playing around with what I had on hand: 2 1/2 inch round labels, an MS Word label template, fonts I like, and a simple rubber stamp. They took fifteen minutes to make and are so much more satisfying than the store-bought kind. (Click here to learn more about how to make them.)

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  • Reply Anonymous March 21, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Shae, Are you sure that your not writting a sequel to Julie/Julia?
    Dee Dee

  • Reply Wendy March 21, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Oh man! This looks delicious! I love rhubarb and I've found that a lot of people in this area have never eaten it. My mom used to grow it behind our garage when I was a kid and she'd make it into pies and crisps. I also really, really like your labels. Cute!

  • Reply Julia March 21, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Those labels are super sweet! And this jam looks delicious! Who doesn't love pears and vanilla, but then rhubarb to punch it all up? It's such a nice photo of the jam itself. I always have a tough time with those shots… I love rhubarb and mine are finally poking their little red heads out of the dirt! Woo hoo!

    I did notice that little warning scooted off to a corner about the set in the Pomona directions. And when I used it the other day I was, like, huh, okay, if you say so. And it was so.

  • Reply Ernest Miller March 22, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I love rhubarb – sounds great. Also, do you think you could upload the file for your labels and the specific label sheet you used for them?

    They look great … stupidly, I've never thought of using stamps to decorate my labels.

  • Reply Shae March 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    D: I don't think I swear enough (at least on my blog) to be in the running for that sequel! But, yeah, I never expected that I'd want to write so much about food.

    Wendy: Where did you grow up? I think you're right about rhubarb around here. I never encountered it growing up in the Bay Area burbs. Of course, it may well have been here, but my upbringing was biased toward Swanson's TV dinners. I'm psyched that you like my labels. That means a lot coming from you!

    Jules: Chickens and poky red rhubarb heads? You are a lucky woman! I was remiss in not clucking over the wonderful chicken photos on your blog the other day. I absolutely love them.

    Ernest: Thank you! And that's a good idea. I will get my stuff together and make a little post this week with details about the labels.

  • Reply Diana March 24, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    I can find Pomona pectin locally, but for the life of me, I can't locate Pomona calcium water. Is it essential to making this recipe? Thanks!

  • Reply Shae March 24, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Diana, my bad! The calcium water mix is in the box with the Pomona's pectin powder. It's a two step process — and both parts are critical to achieving a good set. This teaches me something important about posting recipes that use Pomona's, so thank you. If you make this, I'd love to know how it goes for you!

  • Reply Courtney November 24, 2010 at 3:54 am

    Hi Shae, can you give me any advice on getting a good seal without any canning equipment? Thanks!

  • Reply Shae @ H2H November 24, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Courtney: I don't recommend any method other than hot water bath canning for jam. (It's not just the seal that's necessary for safety; it's the high heat of the water bath, too.) You really don't need a lot of equipment to make it happen — except for the jar lifter, it's pretty easy to improvise with what's on hand in most kitchens. The Tigress has a good page on pulling together the right supplies: http://tigressinajam.blogspot.com/2009/04/jamming-supplies.html.

  • Reply Cara September 20, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Hi! Found your blog whilst doing a search for Pear rhubarb jam. I have lovely older couple neighbors who bring me rhubarb religiously, & although the kids like to munch it, I have never been very fond of it myself. However, the massive guilt of letting half a bag of carefully washed & cut stems of rhubard going to waste had finally gotten to me, so I went in search of some way to mix the rhubarb flavor with some of the pears I am putting up right now. Your recipe was perfect, especially since I just did a vanilla bean pear jam, & so had some vanilla beans. ( By the way, a great source for vanilla beans at a very good price is eBay, which is where I got mine. They were beautiful, plump, full of caviar….HEAVEN!!)
    Thanks again for posting the recipe!

  • Reply just jammy « Siren’s Gate May 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    […] ten days, and for jam with toast… normally I might have jam on toast but this Josh-approved Hitchhiking To Heaven jam is so lip-lickingly gorgeous it’s most assuredly a case of jam with toast. That’s when […]

  • Reply Tom Leeks July 10, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I just discovered your site and from what I read (“I grew up on rhubarb,” he told me. This summer, when we visit his family’s home in way-upstate New York, he promises we can harvest it wild.) it is clear you are in the US but we never know where your replies are from. I am in London, England. Although I have a VERY small town garden one thing I do have is a pear tree. I don’t know the variety as it was here when we bought the house but they are delicious when properly ripe. Unless it is a good year, and this year so far has been particularly bad, quick and even ripening is often difficult. So what I have sometimes done is to put what ripens into the freezer to use later. One advantage of that is that two fruits with completely different seasons can be used together.
    I was searching the internet to see if anyone had posted what,to me, was completely my own invention, they had not. I was also looking for advice for using rhubarb and found your pear and rhubarb. I’ll try that one day but this one was my discovery.
    I have made jam with pears alone but without extra pectin it is difficult/impossible to set so I was wondering what else I could try. In my small garden I usually grow some tomatoes although I need the help of ‘grow bags’ as I have to use space in the patio. I had pears in the freezer and tomatoes on the plant so, I gave it a try with nothing extra added. Just pears and tomatoes in approx equal amounts and sugar. Very successful. I used sugar in equal weight to the total fruit but after reading your notes I might try less sugar plus pectin. I’m assuming the brand you refer is in USA but I’m sure I can find an equivalent here. Your use of vanilla to complement the pears sounds good too, I might try that. If you try the recipe it would be interesting to note if you have good ideas of other additions.

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