This is the time of year when I am faced with a challenge. Everything seems to be coming into season at the same time and with my berry picking addiction I can tend to go a little overboard. I have some wonderful friends and family who generously share the bounty of their gardens and in the past week I have picked six liters of fresh strawberries, 2 liters of wild raspberries, 5 pounds of rhubarb, 3 pounds of black cherries, a liter of black currants and two liters of red currants (that was with kids in tow). Heavenly. But then, what to do with all of that bounty???
I love rhubarb, but unfortunately I seem to be a bit singular in that within my household. So instead of making a crumble or pie that I have to try and polish off on my own, I thought I’d try making a rhubarb marmalade. I started with an internet search for ‘rhubarb marmalade’ and wasn’t entirely keen on what I was finding. Some recipes sounded promising, but suggested adding red food coloring to improve the color. I prefer to prepare jams and marmalades without any additional pectin or additives, so I started to think about combinations that would naturally improve the color. Hmmmm….I had all of those juicy black cherries. So I started a search for ‘rhubarb cherry’ which brought up a mass of recipes that incorporated cherry jell-o instead of real cherries. Completely perplexed by that combination, I decided to strike out on my own.
The result is more of a fruit spread than a jam or marmalade with an undertone of cherries that highlights the tartness of the rhubarb. The dark cherries provide a gloriously rich merlot color and there is a subtle hint of orange from the orange juice and zest which helps everything to firm up. My not-exactly-rhubarb-loving husband gave it two thumbs up and in very Swedish fashion particularly enjoys it on oatmeal. I was pleased enough with it to mix up another batch using the remaining cherries and rhubarb I had on hand. If you are using tart cherries or prefer to cut the tartness of the rhubarb more, you can adjust the sugar by adding up to 1 cup (200g) more.
Rhubarb cherry spread
makes about 3 cups (750ml)
2 1/2 pounds (1.1 kg) fresh rhubarb, chopped
1/2 pound (225g) pitted sweet cherries (about 3/4 pound (340g) unpitted), roughly chopped
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/3 cup (85ml) fresh orange juice
Blend all of the ingredients in a non-reactive, airtight container. Cover and refrigerate overnight so the flavors blend (you can skip this part if you are in a hurry). When you are ready to start making the spread, put a small white plate into the freezer. You will be using this to test if your spread has set enough. Scrape everything into a large saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until the spread is thick, stirring once in a while and scraping the bottom of the pot to avoid burning. Cook uncovered until thick and set to the desired point. This typically requires cooking to a temperature of 220F (104C). You can check the set point by placing a bit of the spread on the frozen plate, returning it to the freezer, and checking it in a few minutes. When you are content with the consistency, spoon the spread into clean jars, secure the lids and turn the jars upside down which will seal them. Cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator. If you are interested in trying traditional canning which won’t require your spreads to be refrigerated, you can check out www.freshpreserving.com for tips.