Easy rhubarb jam is exactly that. Easy. Made from just rhubarb, sugar, lemon, water, and a little stirring, it makes simple, pretty, and perfect preserves that taste just like old-fashioned jam. No prior canning experience required. Here’s how to make it at home.
This easy rhubarb jam perplexes us in the best possible way. It tastes far lovelier than you’d expect given that it’s derived from a funky-looking plant with gangly stalks and floppy leaves. It’s also ridiculously easy to make—more so than we’d ever fathomed. The old-fashioned and pretty preserves call for a mere four ingredients and an occasional stir.–Renee Schettler
WHY DIDN’T MY RHUBARB JAM SET?
Thanks to its carefully worded instructions, this is pretty much a foolproof preserve. And, lucky you, it also means there’s no prior canning experience required. There isn’t any added pectin in this rhubarb jam (that’s the aforementioned easy part) aside from what comes from the lemon. This means that it’s not going to setup ultra firm, anyway. What you’re doing is mostly just cooking it down until it thickens up. Continue simmering and doing the cold-plate test until it’s nearly to your desired consistency. Remember that it’ll definitely thicken up as it cools. There are some extra canning tips at the end of the recipe, so make sure to read all the way through before you start.
Easy Rhubarb Jam
- Canning jars and lids
- 4 pounds rhubarb, preferably red trimmed, rinsed, and cut into small chunks (about 16 cups)
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups cold water
- 1 lemon halved and juiced, seeds reserved
Prepare the jars
- Sterilize the jars and lids for canning by boiling them in a large pot of water. Place a small plate in the freezer.
Make the rhubarb jam
- In a large bowl, place the rhubarb, sugar, water, lemon juice, spent lemon halves, and lemon seeds (which provide the necessary pectin for thickening), and let rest on the counter for 1 hour. (If you want to make your life easier later on, tuck the lemon seeds in a tea ball or tie them in cheesecloth to make for simple retrieval.)
- After 1 hour, dump the rhubarb mixture into a pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to cook, stirring the jam constantly, for about 15 minutes. Skim any foam from the surface of the jam as it arises.
- After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to medium to keep the jam at a constant simmer, stirring frequently, to make sure the jam isn't scorched at the bottom of the pot.
- After a total of 30 minutes simmering, check to see if your jam has set by taking the plate from the freezer and dolloping a small spoonful of the jam on the plate. The jam is set when it holds its shape on the cool plate rather than turning into a blob. If it seems a little runny, continue cooking over medium-low heat until set.
- Remove the lemon halves and seed bag and toss them in the compost or trash.
Store the rhubarb jam
- If using the rhubarb jam within a week or two, ladle the jam into the sterilized jars, filling them to the bottom-most ring at the top of the jar. Gently tap the bottom of each jar on the counter to release any air bubbles. Using a damp clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars and secure the lids and rings. Place in the refrigerator and use to your heart's content.If canning the rhubarb jam and using it over the next year, ladle the jam into the sterilized jars, filling them to the bottom-most ring at the top of the jar. Gently tap the bottom of each jar on the counter to release any air bubbles. Using a damp clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars and secure the lids and rings. Continue with the following steps.
- If not using the rhubarb jam within a week, process the jars of rhubarb jam in a water bath for 5 minutes if using pint jars, 10 minutes if using quart jars. [For more information on canning, see our handy Canning 101 below.] Use tongs to remove the jars from the pot and let them cool on the counter.
- When the jam is room temperature, remove the metal rings, check for proper seals, and label with the date and contents. Store in a cool, dark pantry for up to 1 year.
Preparing JarsBe sure to set up your jars and workspace before making the jam. Wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water and set them to dry completely on a rack or on a clean dish towel. Sterilize jars by placing them in a canning pot, filling it with water, and bringing it to a simmer. Hold jars in water or in a 225° F (107°C) oven until ready to use. (This latter oven trick is not recommended by the USDA, but I’m still alive to give you the option.)
Filling JarsAll canned goods need headspace to allow for expansion of the food and to create a vacuum in cooling jars. As a general rule, leave 1/4 inch of headspace on all jams and jellies. When placing lids and rings on canning jars, do not overtighten the rings. Secure just until rings have tension and feel snug. Overtightening will not allow for air to vent from the jars—a crucial step in canning.
Processing JarsFill a canning pot or a deep stockpot half full of water and bring to a low boil. Hold the liquid at a very low boil until ready to use. If using a canning pot, place prepared jars of food on the rack in the canner. If using a deep stockpot, best only for small-batch preserving, line the bottom of the pot with a dish towel and place jars on top. This helps them from clanging around on the bottom of the pot or tumbling over onto their sides. This form of canning is not universally recommended or endorsed by the USDA, although I have seen plenty of farmers and European country folk use this old-school technique, and I’ve adapted their laissez-faire ways. Do not stack the jars, as you need to allow for the circulation of water for proper sealing. Lower jars into the pot and add enough hot water to cover the jar tops by an inch or more. Cover the pot and return to a boil. Processing times begin once the canning pot water is brought back to the boil. This can take as long as 15 minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on your pot and a timer nearby.
Removing JarsUsing a jar lifter or a set of kitchen tongs, remove jars from the canner when the processing time has elapsed. Set them aside on a folded towel to cool. Make sure you do not press on the tops and create an artificial seal.
Knowing When Jars are Properly SealedYou’ll hear the sound of can tops popping shortly—a sign that a secure seal has been made. Once the jars are cool, check the seal by removing the outer ring and lifting the jar by holding only the lid. If it stays intact, you have successfully canned your food. If the seal is loose or broken, you may reprocess it in the water bath within 24 hours. Be sure to replace the lid and check the jar rim for cracks or nicks and replace it if necessary. Alternatively, you can refrigerate the jar immediately and use it within 2 or 3 weeks.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This was delicious jam. It was tart and sweet with a good consistency. It came together quickly and easily, and the longest part of the process was waiting for the rhubarb to macerate with the sugar.
I worried that the jam wouldn’t set up well, but it was fine. The recipe also scales down very well, as I made only a quarter of it without any problems. I also didn’t can it, but instead made a “refrigerator” jam that I ate within a week. It was delicious on biscuits—and made one of the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’ve ever had.
There is such beautiful color, tart flavor, and a hint of lemon in this easy rhubarb jam recipe.
I cut the recipe in half for a smaller portion of jam, and was quite happy with the results. The jam set up easily on the frozen plate.
The rhubarb jam worked very well, even though I made only a quarter of the amount. My only variation from the recipe was that after mixing all of the ingredients, I didn’t have a chance to cook it immediately, so the mixture was left on the stove overnight.
Personally, I found this to be a very sweet jam. Later I used 1 pound of rhubarb with 3/4 cup sugar. This was a better ratio, but I’d still like to adjust the sugar so that the sour and sweet tastes are in just the correct balance.
I must confess, I didn’t go through all of the canning steps for this recipe. I’m storing it in the fridge because I don’t expect it to last long. I love the addition of the lemon. I even snacked on the “candied” lemon peels after I fished them out of the jam.
Originally published May 2, 2012his