RHUBARB AND STRAWBERRY JAM

RHUBARB AND STRAWBERRY JAM

``Summer heralds the joyous beginning of jam making, when the house is filled with the perfume of simmering fruits being transformed by sugar and heat into luscious spread. Jam turns bread into a luxury and is a useful ingredient in sauces, and desserts, such as cakes and cookies. With a great cornucopia of fruits to choose from, swelling and ripening in a tantalizing succession of harvest, throughout summer and autumn, there is plenty of room for experimentation.

``Although familiar fruits, such as raspberries and strawberries, still provide the most popular jams, less traditional flavors can be created with pineapples, or apples and ginger. Rhubarb and strawberries combined together make a beautiful rose-red, wonderfully scented chunky jam, pleasing to both the eye and palate.''

So begins ``Jams,'' the first of many inviting chapters in Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz's cookbook, ``Clearly Delicious: An Illustrated Guide to Preserving, Pickling, and Bottling.''

3 pounds rhubarb

1 quart (1 pound) strawberries

7 cups sugar

3 lemons

Trim the rhubarb and cut the stalks into 1/8 inch pieces. Hull and halve the strawberries. Layer the fruit pieces with the sugar in a large nonmetallic bowl. Halve and squeeze the lemons, keeping the seeds, juice, and lemon halves. Pour the juice over the layered fruit. Cover and leave to stand overnight to draw out the juices.

Roughly chop the squeezed lemon halves. Place the fruit with the seeds on a a square of cheesecloth. Tie up tightly into a bag with a long piece of string. Pour the contents of the bowl into a preserving pan. Tie the cheesecloth bag to the pan handle, so that it rests on the fruit.

Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and boil rapidly, without stirring, for 15 minutes or until it reaches setting point. Remove the pan from the heat to test. The candy thermometer should read 220 degrees F. If you do not have a candy thermometer, test for setting with the cold plate test: Drop a little of the jam onto a cold plate. Chill quickly in the refrigerator. If the jam forms skin, and wrinkles when it is pushed with a finger or spoon, it has reached setting point.

Lift the bag out of the pan and squeeze all the juice back into the pan. Discard the bag. With the pan off the heat, lightly skim off any froth from the surface of the jam, using a long-handled metal spoon. Immediately pour the jam into warmed sterilized jars, to within 1/8 inch of the tops. Seal the jars and label. Makes about 6 cups.

Note: If the setting point has not been reached, the jam will be runny. It can be corrected by returning the runny jam to the preserving pan and reboiling. Alternatively, add commercial pectin and follow the package instructions carefully. Too much pectin will spoil the flavor.

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