There something odd going on with rhubarb – more than just the weirdness in shape and name I wrote in my last post. It seems to invite creative aberration. An experimental (by German 1980s standards) recipe that my mother makes to this day involves rhubarb. She was mildly bewildered by my detailed inquiries about the topic that I kept on sending her this week. But here it goes…
When we were kids, we had the standard selection of home-made fruit preserves: raspberry jam, strawberry jam, black current jelly, plum butter. Of course, the content of our pantry varied from year to year, and my parents would also buy additional jars. But there was one additional kind that you could be almost certain to find in our house and that no one else seemed to have: banana-rhubarb jam.
I think I’ll need to preface this a little more, because today this isn’t a particularly scandalous recipe any more. Come the season, and German housekeeping magazines are swamped with recipes for the most frivolous preservers you can imagine. Researching for this post, I referenced the most reliable source of canning absurdities: the oversized section of books thematically focusing on making jams with your Thermomix. (This is a whole different story about contemporary German cooking, but for those who’ve never heard of it: a Thermomix is the most useless piece of household gear that has been miraculously marketed in a way that gets thrifty Germans to spend around $1,000 on it. It’s a blender that can also cook whatever you’re blending.) Of course, the consumer with a taste for gimmicky household items also has a taste for equally gimmicky recipes. So here they go:
- Apricot Jam with Almonds and Lavender
- Strawberry Prosecco Jam
- Pumpkin Pineapple Jam with White Wine
- Peppery Strawberry Kiwi Jam
- Lemon Campari Jelly
- “Pineapple Kisses Persimmon”
- Kumquat Jam with Star Anise and White Wine Caramel
- Raspberry Horseradish Jam
- Mango Orange Tomato Jam
I’m not opposed to trying at least some of them, but I doubt any single of them would surpass a well-made black currant jelly. Or a really good cherry jam with nothing but a dash of Kirsch added. Now imagine you make a large badge of one of these novelty concoctions and you’re spending a whole winter with Raspberry Horseradish Jam on your breakfast table. I have sinned before, so I know what I’m talking about after a season of Pumpkin Orange Jam – a preserve made from one of the blandest vegetables with a slap in your face orange note of orange liquor and orange peel. On top of it, it had the consistency and color of baby food. Fighting the never-ending jars of sweet boozy orange baby food bread spread, I missed nothing more than the normal feel of real fruit – the silky texture of a proper preserve with soft pieces of fruit that are recognizable both in texture and flavor.
Call me conservative, here’s another thing that’s wrong with Pineapple Coconut Jam. It’s beyond the point of canning (assuming you live in Central Europe or most of the U.S.), which is to preserve seasonal and local fruit. In our family, jams were grown literally a few yards from the breakfast table and for the longest time their existence was a response to the economic reality of needing to grow your own food to make ends meet.
In the 1970s, that reality changed. My parents grew fruits and vegetables out of inertia throughout the 1980s, until they stopped, because there was really no need. And unlike my retired grandparents, who then supplied us with raspberries etc., my parents had no time, because they both worked full-time. But rhubarb plants are persistent beasts, so they stuck around.
And that’s where the banana story started and why it survived. It wasn’t as much a gimmicky novelty thing, but it was about continuing the tradition of canning, of wanting to grow your own, make your own. So what would you add, considering that rhubarb on its own is just sour and fibrous? Bananas. They’re available, they’re cheap and, oddly, that jam is really amazing. I remember that in grade school we did class breakfasts every now and then. Everyone would bring something and I brought said jam. My teacher, a stern and bony German lady, was bedazzled by it. I reported at home and my mother suggested that I might as well have left the quarter-empty jar with the teacher if she liked it that much.
This hadn’t occurred to me or rather – the honest citizen I was back then (still am, I believe), I thought it would have constituted an incident of bribery. That’s how good even a half jar of this jam is. It tastes of that short transitional era between subsistence gardening and the thermomixed return to canning as a bumptious pastime.
Banana Rhubarb Jam, yields about six 8 oz jars.
- 2 ripe bananas.
- 2.5 lb rhubarb.
- Juice of one lemon.
- 1.5 lb sugar. Basically, you want to use 0.5 lb of sugar for 1 lb of fruit.
- Pectin. There are various kinds – I used one from Whole Foods. Buy whichever you prefer and follow the instructions on the box.
Step one. Wash the rhubarb and cut into pieces. Halve the bananas and cut into slices. Sprinkle with the lemon juice.
Step two. Bring everything to a boil in a wide pot and cook for about 7 minutes until the rhubarb is soft. Add pectin according to instructions. Put the jam into jars and process according to your preferred method. In Germany, we always use glass jars from store-bought products that we recycle for this purpose. I’ve never had any issues with that and still prefer this method to spending money on Mason jars.