Rhubarb stalks

Photograph: istockphoto

“Most people are intimidated by rhubarb,” says Paul Virant (Vie, Perennial Virant). “They are not really familiar with it, that’s number one.”

Rhubarb season hits the Midwest in April and peaks in June. Then the stalks are gone, and we don’t understand them any better than we did last year.

Rhubarb shows up at Virant’s restaurants in pies and tarts, but his pastry chef, Elissa Narow, loves to grill it really fast and coat it with a little honey and salt. Then she tosses it in white wine and serves it as a compote with a lemon curd tart. Virant indulges in a slow cook with sugar, lemon or orange zest, and vanilla beans. After letting it drain overnight, he strains it through a cheesecloth and hands the deep red rhubarb syrup to the bartenders. “They use it in a sparkling wine cocktail at brunch or in a mocktail with sparkling water,” says Virant. “They go kind of crazy.”

By summer, Virant moves on to berries, but for his rhubarb-beer jam recipe, see below. Then buy his book The Preservation Kitchen (Random House, $29.99) so you can make spring last all year.

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Rhubarb-Beer Jam

From The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy

“This jam takes advantage of two things that the Midwest has in abundance: beer and rhubarb. Pair a locally made wheat beer with rhubarb, which grows like a weed in some parts, and we have one heck of a regional jam. The tang of both ingredients is mellowed with a long maceration process. I refrigerate the beer and rhubarb with the sugar and lemon at least overnight to allow the sugar to gently soften the rhubarb and extract its juices. Like the Beer Jam (page 60), this tart preserve gets put to work at the bar. It’s especially endearing in the Vie version of a Normandy (page 212), a cocktail featuring Calvados.”

makes 7 half-pints

Ingredient Volume Ounces Grams Percent
Rhubarb, diced about 9 cups 3 pounds 1361 grams 59%
Wheat beer 3 cups 24 ounces 680 grams 29%
Sugar 1 ½ cups 9 ounces 255 grams 11%
Lemon juice 1 lemon 1 ounce 28 grams 1%
Lemon zest 2 tablespoons

1. In a wide, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the rhubarb, beer, sugar, and lemon juice and zest to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cool, transfer to a storage container, and refrigerate overnight or up to 5 days.

2. Strain the liquid into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot and reserve the rhubarb. Bring to a boil and cook briskly, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 215˚F, about 12 minutes. Stir in the rhubarb and return to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the jam nears 215˚F, about 10 minutes. The jam should lightly coat the back of a spoon.

3. Scald 7 half-pint jars in a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack—you will use this pot to process the jars. Right before filling, put the jars on the counter. Meanwhile, soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal.

4. Transfer the jam to a heat-proof pitcher and pour into the jars, leaving about a ½-inch space from the rim of the jar. Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the bands until snug but not tight.

5. Place the jars in the pot with the rack and add enough water to cover the jars by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 10 minutes (start the timer when the water reaches a boil). Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the water for a few minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let cool completely.