Beverages, Canning, condiment, Recipes

Vanilla-infused Cranberry-Rhubarb Butter and Syrup: Update

I wanted to make this “happy accident” again to give as Christmas gifts, so here is an updated version of the recipes, which does not include cranberry sauce! Since cranberries and rhubarb are not in season simultaneously, one or the other of them (or both) will most likely be frozen when you make this preserve. I froze cranberries last year at Thanksgiving-time to use in this recipe, and I also always freeze rhubarb for pies throughout the summer. However, I still had rhubarb in the garden last week, so I was able to use fresh stalks this go-round for this recipe. But frozen rhubarb works perfectly well as I discovered last year.


9 cups cranberries (mine were frozen)

9 cups sliced rhubarb (fresh or frozen)

4 cups water

4 cups sugar + ½ cup sugar, kept separate

2 vanilla beans



Slit the vanilla beans and scrape the tiny black seeds into the pot. If your beans are fresh, throw the pods in too, just remove them before straining.* Place the all the ingredients except the ½ cup sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until cranberry skins have burst and rhubarb is soft.

Line a colander or strainer with cheesecloth (personally, I prefer nylon tulle—it has smaller holes and is easier to deal with after you’re done—just rinse it out, wash it, and use it again!). Pour cranberry-rhubarb mixture into the strainer and just leave it for an hour or so. You can stir gently, but avoid forcing solids through the cheesecloth or tulle.



After the dripping has stopped, pour off the syrup you’ve gathered. (If any tiny cranberry seeds have found their way through, you might want to strain through another cloth, but it isn’t necessary.) Pour the fruit syrup into a clean pan and heat until boiling, lowering to simmer for 10 minutes. You should have about 4 cups, or 2 pint jars worth. This can be poured into sterilized, hot jars, capped, and canned in the water bather canner for 15 minutes, adjusting processing time for your altitude. This syrup is delicious in cocktails or non-alcoholic spritzers. You get the tartness of cranberry and rhubarb, the sweetness of sugar, and the floral scent and flavor of the vanilla beans. It is good stuff!



If you want to use the syrup for pancakes, boil it down a little longer until it is thicker and reduced to the consistency you prefer for pancakes or waffles. If it isn’t sweet enough for you, you can add agave nectar or non-high-fructose corn syrup to the mixture (about a cup per 4 cups of fruit syrup), which will also thicken it more. Bring back to a boil, and can the syrup as directed above.

Now, for the cranberry-rhubarb butter. A word about fruit butters might be in order here. A fruit butter, such as pear butter or apple butter, is a smooth, thick, rich concoction you can spread on toast, or a bagel, or anything else you choose (a cracker with a slice of tart cheese, or a schmear of cream cheese, perhaps). Generally, the fruit is cooked and strained or pureed and cooked down some more until it is concentrated flavor. Oh, my, I do love fruit butters! I make pear butter when I can get pears, and I make apple butter every year from my garden apples. This cranberry-rhubarb butter is just as thick and delicious, but you don’t have to cook it down for very long the way you do pear or apple butter. I am guessing that the abundance of natural pectin in both fruits, and the fact that you’ve strained off some of the juice, have something to do with this.

Now, you could just skip the next step, the second straining, and can this mixture as jam. It would need to be cooked down a little more, until it is thick and glossy, and then it could go right in the sterile jars and be processed for 10 minutes in the water bath canner like any other jam. However, rhubarb can be fibrous, and cranberry skins can be tough even with long cooking, so running the mixture through a strainer is a good idea. And what you end up with is so smooth and delicious, it really is worth the trouble.

So, for cranberry-rhubarb butter, run the mixture through a chinois (also known as a China cap colander) or a Squeezo strainer, or whatever sort of straining device you have. I use a chinois, which I call a cone colander when I’m not being all fancy-like. This gets out all the rhubarb fibers and tough cranberry skins. (I saved this roughage though to eat like cranberry sauce with roast chicken. I don’t really mind the occasional tough skin or rhubarb string.) What you will end up with in the pan or bowl after straining is thick and smooth pulp.



Put that strained pulp (I got about 5 cups) back in a large pot, add the reserved ½ cup sugar if the mixture is too tart for you (or more, if you prefer a sweeter taste; ½ cup was perfect for me) and heat to boiling. This stuff is really thick, so as soon as it starts to blurp, turn the heat down, and do stir continuously during the heating up process and until the butter reaches a lower heat; otherwise, it will stick and scorch. Cook the butter on a low heat at a constant simmer until it is very glossy. This should only take about 10 or 15 minutes, stirring frequently. The glossiness means that all the sugars have amalgamated, and the pectins have been concentrated, and you will have a nice, thick, rich spread when it comes out of the jar.



Spoon your cranberry-rhubarb butter into sterilized, hot jars, leaving a ½ headspace, cap, and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes, adjusting processing time for your altitude.

I got 5 half-pint jars of cranberry-rhubarb butter, most of which I will give for Christmas gifts, but at least one jar will be served with Thanksgiving dinner, because it is perfect for that meal.



Recipe Notes:

*My vanilla beans weren’t fresh, and I learned something. If the beans smell a bit alcoholic, that’s the pod. Scrape the inside of the bean and use that, but discard the pods. The inside is still perfectly fine. My beans were a year old, but had been kept tightly wrapped in a Ziploc plastic bag and in a jar in the fridge. Obviously, you don’t want to use anything that’s moldy or weeping liquid.

With these amounts of fruit, etc., my yield was 2 pints of cranberry-rhubarb syrup, 5 half-pints of cranberry-rhubarb butter (with a small dish leftover to enjoy NOW!), and a pint-sized tub of roughage to eat like cranberry sauce with roast chicken (pic below).



I hope you’ll freeze some rhubarb and/or cranberries this year to try this recipe. It really is amazingly good. Happy jamming!

Canning, condiment, Recipes

Vanilla-Infused Cranberry-Rhubarb Butter

There are such things as happy accidents, even in the kitchen. This is the story of one.

I have been cleaning out the freezer to make room for the current crop of berries: raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries. I always freeze these berries before making jams or other kinds of preserves from them for a couple of reasons. One, I’m too busy in the summer when they’re ripe to deal with them; two, they render more juice after being frozen and thawed. So in my quest to make more space in the freezer, I found a quart bag and gallon bag of rhubarb which I’d sliced and frozen I will not say how long ago. Let’s put it this way—I considered throwing it away, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Surely there must be some way to use it, I thought. I started trawling the internet for rhubarb jam recipes, but all of them called for fresh stalks, and I wasn’t sure how frozen would work. Then I came across a couple of rhubarb syrup recipes. Ooooh, that should work, thought I. While I was in Denver with my daughter, we’d paid a visit to the Ikea store and found some rhubarb syrup for making cocktails and spritzers. It was very good. So the thought of using my old rhubarb for syrup struck a chord. The recipe I settled on is at

However, as usual, I can’t leave well enough alone. I had eight cups of previously frozen rhubarb, and I put it on to cook with less than the amount of water called for in the recipe because when it thawed, the rhubarb released a lot of water. I used the amount of sugar called for in the recipe but doubled it because I had twice the amount of rhubarb.   And I threw a vanilla bean in the pot because I have some beans that must be used soon, and because I saw a rhubarb jam recipe that called for a vanilla bean, and I thought, why not?  I got the rhubarb, sugar, vanilla bean, and water simmering on the stove and went out to pull beets. (I also pickled beets the day I made the cranberry-rhubarb butter.) By the time I came back, the rhubarb had really broken down. As in, it was thick! How was I going to make syrup out of this stuff? Also, it was an unattractive beige-y green color. I wanted it red. Most of my rhubarb is not red, so I am used to the greenish color in pies, but in a syrup, I wanted red. Also, if I was going to make jam out of the pulp, as suggested in the recipe, I wanted it to be a toothsome color. Beige-y green is not toothsome. So I threw in a handful of red plums from the orchard tree and a handful of boysenberries Dennis had just brought in. They made no difference at all to the color and no discernable difference in taste.

What did I have, bar food coloring, to turn this rhubarb mess red? Well, beets, but I didn’t think that combination would taste all that great. I went back to the freezer. Didn’t I have a bag of cranberries in there somewhere? Yes, I did. I’d bought extra cranberries at Thanksgiving and frozen them, thinking I’d try some kind of cranberry jam at some point. I had about a quart. I started throwing them in by the handfuls, hoping to see some change in color, until I had thrown in the whole bag. At that point, I tasted the mess and decided that it needed more sugar, although I could have lived with it as it was. I added another cup of sugar. I still wasn’t satisfied with the color, so back to the freezer I went. Wasn’t there a bag of whole cranberry sauce in there? I made too much at Thanksgiving and froze the extra in sandwich bags, then put them in a gallon bag to keep them together. I’d been using it up one bag a time with roasted Cornish game hens. Yep, there it was, the last bag, about a cup and a half of cranberry sauce (which is just cranberries, sugar, and water). I threw that in the pot as well, and finally, as it melted, I had a nice reddish color.

All right, what was I going to do with this stuff now? It had been cooking for some time at this point, and was looking very jam-like, but fibrous, from the broken down rhubarb. It tasted delicious, and at this point, I knew I had a winner in the taste category, but I wasn’t sure what the final product would be. I decided to see if I could get a little syrup out of it, because I thought it would please my daughter. I couldn’t find my jelly bag (remember, I’ve been gone from home for a month—I found it later that day at the bottom of a basket of clean laundry, and for the life of me, I still can’t remember what I used it for before I left!), so I had to improvise with some nylon tulle stuffed into a cone colander. I left the cranberry-rhubarb stuff dripping and went on to work on my beets.

After a couple of hours, with the beets boiling, I returned to the stuff. I had about 2 ½ cups of red syrup in the bottom of the pan under the colander—good enough, says I. I removed the syrup, bottled it in a jar, and got it processing in the water bath canner, while I started rubbing the solids through the colander. I do this the old-fashioned way, with a hardwood pestle. I gave my Squeezo Strainer to my son. I just like the process with the pestle, the way I grew up doing it with my mom.

I ended up with 7 1/2 pints of what I’m calling vanilla-infused cranberry-rhubarb butter. That’s because the consistency of it reminds me very much of apple butter and pear butter: smooth and spreadably thick, rich, glossy, and, by the way, delicious. The pectin in the rhubarb and cranberries thickens and glosses up the butter, just the way apple skins and pear skins do with those kinds of butters. It’s tart-sweet, just the way I like preserves, and you can taste both the cranberries and the rhubarb. Who knew that would be such a great combination? I didn’t. But, yum. Here’s the recipe, should you be inclined to try this yourself.  And by the way, the beets turned out beautifully too.  You can see some of the heirloom beets in the front row of the pic below, cranberry-rhubarb syrup and butter on the right.


Vanilla-Infused Cranberry-Rhubarb Syrup and Butter

8 cups sliced rhubarb, along with any juice (mine was frozen, then thawed)

4 cups cranberries (mine were also frozen)

1 ½ cups of homemade cranberry sauce (see directions below)

1 split vanilla bean

5 ½ cups sugar

3 cups water

Boil all ingredients together until rhubarb and cranberries are soft. Taste and add more sugar by ½ cup measure until desired sweetness is reached. Remove vanilla bean. If you wish to render syrup, pour the fruit and juices into a jelly bag and hang until it stops dripping. Syrup can be processed as is in sterile pint or half-pint jars in water bath canner for 10 minutes, or thickened by boiling and reducing, then processed for 10 minutes in boiling water bath canner.


For butter: Strain the fruit mixture through a cone colander or other strainer to remove fibers and cranberry skins. If the resulting mash is not thick enough, it can be reduced on the stove top or in the oven until desired thickness is achieved. (I recommend a 300-degree oven, as reducing on the stove top leads to splatters on walls, as my kitchen will attest.) Reheat to boiling, spoon into sterile, hot pint jars and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.  Always adjust processing times for your altitude, if necessary.


Now, if you’re not making whole-berry cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, why not? It’s simple, delicious, and you will know exactly what three ingredients go into it!

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

12 oz. bag of whole cranberries

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Heat water and sugar to boiling, add cranberries, watch ‘em pop! Bring to boil, lower to simmer for 10 min. Remove pan from heat and cool to room temperature to allow sauce to thicken before refrigerating. This stuff keeps forever in the fridge, and it can be frozen and thawed months later.