I'll admit it - I was a rhubarb virgin.
You don't find a temperate fruit like that readily growing in subtropical areas like mine, and it's kind of pricey when you find it individually shrink-wrapped in the produce section. Plus, I'd heard that it's sour.
"Sour?" I thought every year when I spied those pinky stems it in the chiller case. "I can get sour from some good ol' Florida lemons come this fall! Nuts to you, truck-farmed stalks of pucker!"
Then came along the May Can Jam challenge. Sarah at Toronto Tasting Notes had the honors this month, and she gave us our choice of rhubarb or asparagus. As much as I adore asparagus (coincidentally another pricey import for me), I decided to come to terms with rhubarb. So I emptied my savings account, went forth to Publix, and flung trays of tartness into my cart.
Paired with some fresh Lawtey strawberries from my favorite local produce store, they made a pretty picture. Kind of like celery in drag, I thought as I chopped them into the recommended dice.
This month's recipe - a compote that I lifted from Doris and Jilly Cook - was almost too easy. Just dump, simmer, jar, and process. I personalized the recipe a little, adding some lemon juice for more preserving power and swapping a vanilla bean for the star anise (vanilla beans are pricey, I know, but since I already broke the bank on the rhubarb I decided to go nuts). A couple of tablespoons of Courvoisier might have also accidentally-on-purpose fallen into the pot, too, but I promise that it was okay in the end.
I sneaked a spoonful during the cook-down to see how rhubarb and I might get along.
It turns out that we like each other just fine. Sour isn't just for lemons anymore...
Strawberry and Rhubarb Compote with Vanilla
Lifted and adapted from Doris and Jilly Cook
Makes about 5 half-pints
Approximately 1 1/2 pounds of rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch segments
1 quart of husked strawberries (I halved mine, but I bet you could leave them whole)
1 C of sugar (or more to taste)
1/4 C of lemon juice (from about one lemon - can use bottled, of course)
Zest of one lemon
2 TB of cognac
One vanilla bean
1. Prepare your canner, jars, lids, bands, etc. Make sure you really have everything going; if your compote acts like mine, everything will move along lickety-split and you'll need those jars fast.
2. Throw the first six ingredients into a big pot. Split the vanilla bean open and scrape the seeds from the insides. Add those to the pot, then dump in the empty pod as well.
3. Heat over a medium to medium-high burner until the contents are boiling, then turn it down to a simmer over medium-low. Stirring occasionally, cook until everything is falling apart and squishy (Doris and Jilly suggest a 30 minute cooking time, but I swear mine was done in about ten. But I'm an overachiever like that).
4. As soon as you are satisfied with the texture of your compote, fish out the empty vanilla pod and discard it. Then go ahead and pull your canning jars out of their hot water bath. Fill to about 1/2 inch headspace (confession time - I made mine too full and all but one seal failed. The good one is pictured; the rest had to be re-processed). Lid, band, and lower into the hot water. Process for 10 minutes.
I had about three tablespoons of the compote left over after canning - I couldn't let it got to waste now, could I?