Last summer we spent a memorable couple of nights as guests of Alpine farmers Ernst and Margrit Kübli in their Chalet Horneggli high above Saanenmöser, in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland.
During our short stay, we observed with respect as they worked from dawn to dusk, milking the cows, making the cheese, mucking out the cows’ stable, cutting and gathering the hay — and then doing it all again next day.
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I confess I’m not much of a preserve person, but this one really hit the spot for me. Not only does it taste amazingly fresh and fruity, it’s also far less sweet than most jams. Two reasons for this, explained Margrit: First, she adds commercial pectin (especially useful for rhubarb, which has little of its own), which means the setting point is reached much faster than with most jams, so the fruit keeps all its natural character and flavor. Second, where generally the ratio of sugar to fruit is 1 to 1, Margrit cuts it back to half this amount — to 2 pounds of fruit she adds only 1 pound of sugar. This means the jam will not keep for long and you should store it in the fridge and use it up fairly promptly. This, I promise, is no hardship.
Rhubarb and Orange Preserve
Makes four to five 1-pound jars
The joy of this jam recipe is it’s so quick and easy — who wants to be trapped in the kitchen boiling up preserves for hours in hot weather? You can tackle the task in two easy steps. First, trim and slice the rhubarb, chop the oranges very finely and put in a large bowl with the sugar. Next day, tip the fruit into a preserving pan, bring to a boil, simmer gently, then add pectin and boil very briefly till it reaches setting point.
2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) rhubarb
2 thin-skinned oranges, untreated at harvest
1 pound (500 grams) plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1½ ounces (40 grams, or 4 tablespoons) powdered commercial pectin
2-3 sprigs of fresh mint (optional)
1. Wash the rhubarb, trim away the ends and cut in ½-inch slices.
2. Scrub the oranges but do not peel. Cut away a slice of peel from the stalk end and from the opposite end.
3. Slice the fruit very thinly, remove all pips and cut slices in tiny dice.
4. Put rhubarb and oranges in a large bowl, add 1 pound sugar, mix well, cover the bowl and leave to macerate for a few hours or overnight, stirring occasionally — the fruit will make lots of juice and the sugar will dissolve.
5. Tip the fruit into a preserving pan, adding any sugar lurking at the bottom of the bowl.
6. Add the mint sprigs (if using), bring the fruit and sugar to a boil, stirring, then turn down the heat and allow to cook at the barest simmer for 10 minutes till the fruit is just soft.
7. Mix the pectin with 2 tablespoons sugar and stir it into the fruit, raise the heat and boil hard for 3 minutes or until setting point is reached — test by tipping a little jam into a chilled saucer and draw a finger through it. It should leave a distinct channel and the surface will wrinkle slightly. If not, continue to boil a few minutes more.
8. Once the setting point is reached, pour jam into clean, warm jars and cover while still hot.
9. Keep the jam in the fridge and use within two to three months.
Top photo: Oranges for use in the rhubarb and orange preserve. Credit: Sue Style