Thirteen years ago, during the first spring in our house, I discovered that you could make a simple rhubarb conserve in less than ten minutes. We’ve come to call it a refrigerator preserve, since there isn’t a high heat canning process involved, and the springtime jars vanish from our refrigerator so quickly it would be pointless to undertake one. It’s small batch preserving at its best, just a bouquet of rhubarb, a vanilla bean, and a handful of sugar, deceptively simple and almost too easy and good to be true. I’ve seen similar recipes since (and recently), but mine calls for far less sugar and a shorter cooking time. It will be done and waiting, soft and rosy, in a jar in less than half the time it takes a batch of scones t0 emerge from the oven, and a third of the time it takes to cook a pot of old fashioned oatmeal. Stir some into custard or yogurt, smear it on toast, on biscuits sweet or savory, on scones, between cake layers, or dollop it over ice cream—and then walk to the rhubarb patch (or your market) and make some more. It’s a wonderful spring staple.
Rhubarb Vanilla Conserve
Yield: 3 cups; at our house I fill 2 13-ounce jam jars, and have a little extra to use immediately
6 c. diced rhubarb
½ c. sugar*
1 vanilla bean
- Toss the rhubarb and the sugar together in a large pan.
- Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out its seeds with the dull side of a knife, and put the pod and the seeds into the pan.
- Cook the rhubarb over the lowest possible heat, stirring periodically, for about five minutes. If your rhubarb appears to be burning, make sure your stove is on the lowest possible setting, or add a tablespoon of liquid, such as water or liqueur.
- Stir the rhubarb constantly from this point on. It is ready when it has yielded into a soft, jammy consistency and all of the remaining pieces of rhubarb are soft. It takes about eight minutes’ cooking time, start to finish.
- Spoon the conserve into clean glass jars and top them with tight-fitting lids. Store it in the refrigerator for up to one week.
*This is a rather tart jam which highlights rhubarb’s nature. If you prefer a sweet jam, increase the sugar by half.