A beautifully balanced preserve, the main ingredient of which changes with the season
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 using forced rhubarb bought from a family called the Westwoods in the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle, and we continue with that until the end of the season, in March,” the stall’s founder, Elspeth Biltoft, explains. “Once the forced rhubarb season is over, we switch over to rhubarb grown outdoors, but still from within the triangle. We use this until the early autumn, when the stems begin to get too tough. After that we stop production until the following January, when the cycle starts again.”
According to Elspeth, who started buying her forced rhubarb from David Westwood, a fifth-generation grower, back in the 1992 and now buys from his children, this shift causes a fundamental change to the character of the jam. “Forced rhubarb is grown in dark barns, producing a softer, more delicate flavour,” she says. “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.”
Sharp, acidic tang
The flavours shift in tandem with the tone. “The earlier jam has a 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.”
Elspeth uses a traditional method of production in which the 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, so to balance that sweetness, fruits like rhubarb that have some acidity in them really work well,” the jam maker explains.
The process sounds 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, and 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. We heat this very gently until the sugar is all dissolved and then bring it to a fast boil. We then pour it into another container where some preserved ginger pieces are stirred in 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 30 years and privately for many years more. 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 the ingredients, 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 a lovely combination with our Yorkshire rhubarb.”