In the beginning, at the risk of sounding biblical, there was ground ginger, the indispensable addition to puddings and cakes that lurked in the cupboards of our childhoods in tantalising tins that, even when empty, retained the exotic aroma of "somewhere foreign".
The tins eventually gave way to cardboard packets and then to plastic containers, but it was years before I got to grips with the origins of this spice. Somehow the idea that a lumpy rhizome was connected in any way to this fragrant golden powder was incomprehensible.
But that was the way things were back then. Root ginger was not available and, even if it had been, recipe books I used didn't include it in anything recognisable.
Most of us are familiar with root ginger and because it freezes well I keep it on hand all the time. It's easy to grate when frozen, allowing me to buy it when it's super-fresh and succulent.
Lately, recipe books and cookery shows have been infiltrated by stem ginger. Have you noticed how this happens with new ingredients? One minute you are blissfully unaware; the next, every chef and food writer is using it - lavishly - while you are left blinking on the sidelines.
Stem ginger is young ginger preserved in a heavy syrup. I was given a jar and now find it impossible to exist without it. It's a wonderful addition to all things gingery and keeps perfectly in its syrup. This form of ginger is quite hot, so if you have never used it before, I recommend that you taste it before adding the desired quantity to preserves such as today's recipe.
Two hints for making rhubarb jam. Add the sugar to the sliced rhubarb and leave it for 24 hours. I know this might be tedious but it pays off. The texture of the jam is greatly improved, as is the colour.
Lots of jam recipes now recommend you use pectin-infused sugar (jam sugar). A half teaspoon of tartaric acid to each 500g of fruit is just as effective - and cheaper too.
STEM GINGER AND RHUBARB JAM
Makes 4 small jars
500g sliced red rhubarb
zest and juice of a lemon
2 Tbsp finely chopped stem ginger
1/2 tsp tartaric acid
Place rhubarb, sugar, zest, juice and ginger in a glass or ceramic bowl.
Stir to combine then cover.
Leave for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
Spoon the ingredients, including all juices, into a saucepan.
Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.
Add tartaric acid and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool before spooning into jars.
- The Southland Times