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I know some of you are thinking: preserves in February? This lady has lost her marbles. But it’s true, and I am here to talk about the wonders of winter jamming. January and February weekends are not just for marmalade. I make some of my best preserves on winter weekends when it’s too wet/cold to go outside and I have nothing better to do. I love to warm up the kitchen and house with bubbling vats, and it’s terribly therapeutic to have fruit simmering on the stove– you can close your eyes for a minute and pretend it’s July. My summers are often overwhelmingly busy, and my freezers indicate that last year was especially so, as they are chock-full of fruit I intended to jam and didn’t get to then. Rather than lose the fruit*, or miss out on having a certain kind of jam (cherry, strawberry, plum, for instance), I filled the freezer full in anticipation of quieter, less scheduled days. Now, on any given day, I would chose fresh, ripe fruit to work with when making preserves, but it’s true that a few kinds of fruit are forgiving enough to make good, tasty jam after being frozen. One is rhubarb, another is cherries, and I put them together last weekend to make these cherry-rhubarb preserves with vanilla.

When Bing cherries are in season, I often make jam with those and some of the last rhubarb from my plant. It is one of my favorite flavors of the year and often the first used up from my cupboard. I used the last of my Bings to make a batch of smoky cherries in January, but had some pie cherries on hand and thought I would try those instead; it seemed like an especially good combination, given my preference for tart, not-too-sweet jam. These preserves are quite tart, in the wonderful way rhubarb- and pie cherry-lovers adore, deep pink in color and nuanced with vanilla. They will be perfect as a yogurt stir-in or a cookie filling, or on a piece of oatmeal toast.

If you have Bings instead, by all means make the substitution with no changes to the recipe. I find both versions of cherry-rhubarb preserves to be a delicious treat. I’d love to hear from others who jam with frozen fruit: what have you made?

cherry-rhubarb preserves

Cherry-Rhubarb Preserves with Vanilla (makes about 5 half-pints)

  • 4 c. rhubarb, fresh or frozen
  • 2 c. pie cherries, fresh or frozen
  • 2 1/2 c. sugar or organic evaporated cane juice
  • 2 vanilla beans, split
  • 3 T. lemon juice

Start a water bath and sterilize your jars and lids. If you’re working with frozen fruit, allow it to thaw (at least most of the way) in the refrigerator; be careful not to lose any juice.

Into a jam pan, Dutch oven or equivalent, add the rhubarb, cherries, any juice from thawing and sugar; stir to combine. Add the lemon juice and submerge the split vanilla beans in the fruit. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat; cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the preserves boil down and thicken. I prefer a looser set, like a thick applesauce, so I stop cooking mine when the jam thickens enough to fall in sheets from the side of a spoon. I also leave the cherries whole, other than any breaking down that happens naturally from stirring, which is why I refer to this as preserves instead of jam; you can (carefully) blend with an immersion blender if you’d like a smooth consistency. If you’d like to add pectin to make a thicker product that is more like a traditional jam, there are some helpful tips on the Pomona’s pectin website, as well as in the insert found in each box of Pomona’s.

When you reach your desired set point, remove the pan from the heat. Carefully remove the hot vanilla beans and use a knife to scrape out any seeds that may be left in them. Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized jars; wipe the rims of each jar carefully and affix the lids. Process the jars in a water bath for 10 mins.; remove to a clear, towel-lined counter and allow to sit untouched overnight. Check that each jar is sealed; refrigerate unsealed jars immediately. Properly sealed jars will keep in a cool, dark cupboard for up to a year.

*I only ever freeze perfectly ripe, unblemished fruit. Putting under- or over-ripe produce into the freezer does not magically transform it into good quality fruit, and poor-quality fruit is not well suited for canning in any form.