Rhubarb takes me back to springtime in Michigan, where each year, the perennial's broad green leaves carpet the garden in my folks' backyard, hiding the treasured crimson stalks from view. As a kid, I was always put off by the crude plant, and never understood my dad's excitement that came with each season's bounty. But he eventually made his point, and easily so, with a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie.
I came to love the vegetable, which, with just a few minutes of heat, becomes soft and approachable. There are a number of ways to incorporate this pleasantly sour ingredient into cooking, but I still prefer it best in this simple way - with a bit of sugar and berries.
While a pie or crumble with vanilla ice cream is probably my favorite way to enjoy rhubarb, I rarely have the time or patience to make either. Instead, I often opt to cook some down with whatever sweet fruit I have on hand and a vanilla bean. This hits all of the same comforting notes, but is ready in no time and is the perfect accompaniment to my morning yogurt and granola or slice of buttered toast.
There is a moment of crossover right now, when Victoria's autumn conditions match those of spring in Michigan, and rhubarb is widely available. As I stocked up at the market this week and prepared this jam, I imagined that my dad was pulling stalks from the backyard at the very same time. This doesn't mean we aren't still 10,000 miles away from each other, but somehow it makes it feel as if we aren't.
Strawberry-Rhubarb + Vanilla Jam
2 cups quartered strawberries, washed and hulled
1 cup chopped rhubarb
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 cup raw sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and peeled
Pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, and simmer until fruit begins to break down, mashing and stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, and store in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Lasts up to 1 week.