Product of the week: Yorkshire rhubarb and ginger jam

Categories: Product of the week

A beautifully balanced seasonal jam from Rosebud Preserves

One of the most distinctive things about the Yorkshire rhubarb and ginger jam from Rosebud Preserves is that it is in fact two rather different jams. “Towards the end of January, we start making the jam using forced rhubarb bought from a family called the Westwoods in the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle—and I have done since 1992,” the stall’s founder, Elspeth Biltoft, explains. “We continue with that until the end of the season, around March. Once the forced rhubarb season is over, we switch over to rhubarb grown outdoors, which we call ‘green top’ rhubarb—but still from within the triangle. We use this until the stems begin to get tough and stringy. After that, we stop production until the following January, when the cycle starts again.”

According to Elspeth, this shift causes a fundamental change to the character of the jam. “Forced rhubarb is grown in dark, temperature-controlled barns and picked by candlelight”—thus ‘forcing’ the vegetable to grow, in search of light. “The jam made with the forced rhubarb is a very pretty, slightly translucent pink colour, with a hint of orange, whereas the jam made with outdoor-grown rhubarb is a bit darker”—and the flavours shift in tandem with the tone. “The earlier jam has a softer, more delicate fruity flavour and is a bit sweeter, while the outdoor rhubarb brings a sharper, more acidic tang. You can definitely tell the difference and people do have their favourite. I personally slightly prefer the balance of the latter because I am someone who really likes robust flavours.”

Deceptively simple
Elspeth uses a traditional method of production, in which sugar acts as the main preservative. “Because we don’t add commercial pectin or other preservatives, we need to add a certain amount of sugar,” Elspeth explains. “Fruits like rhubarb, which have some acidity in them, really work well to balance out the sweetness.” The process is deceptively simple: “We slice the rhubarb stem and then add unrefined cane sugar—the only kind I ever use—and a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice, then put it in a fridge overnight. This produces a surprisingly large amount of liquid. We pour everything into a pan and add a muslin bag filled with crushed root ginger. This is heated very gently until the sugar has dissolved and then brought to a fast boil. We pour that into another container, stir in some preserved ginger pieces until they’re evenly distributed—and that is it.”

Simple as this may seem, anyone who has ever tried to make jam will understand the skill required to do it well. Elspeth has been making jam commercially for more than 30 years and privately for many years longer. Not only does she have a wealth of experience, but also some strong opinions. “In so many jams, the ingredients are minced down to the point where you can hardly recognise any of them, which is a shame,” she says. “I try to avoid that. I love to get the little pops of heat and freshness from the small chunks of preserved ginger in this jam. I think it makes for a lovely combination with our Yorkshire rhubarb.”

Pick up a pot of Yorkshire rhubarb and ginger jam from the Rosebud Preserves stall or order via Borough Market Online—on its own, or as part of one of our thoughtfully curated Mother’s Day gift hampers.