But on this particular afternoon, things were especially bad. Anyone who has spent a day putting up a supply of jams or jellies has already zeroed in on the image and would understand when I say that after five hours of paring, pitting, slicing, stirring, sweating and lugging massive amounts of food and canning supplies around my kitchen, I'm ready for a nap.
So when my husband entered onto the scene, and gazed admiringly upon the row of gleaming jars, I found little comfort in his words: "I think we could really say our life was in order if we were preserving all of the food this family needed."
I edited my response down to two words: "Get real."
But the truth is that plenty of families are doing just that. Really.
And I admire them tremendously.
They move through the preserving season, from fruit to vegetable, U-pick field to roadside stand, ferreting out the freshest, most bountiful offerings of summer. One neighbor on our block was displaying over two dozen cartons of surplus canning jars at a garage sale.
They were all pints and half pints, she explained, as I combed hungrily through the precious cache. Her family was using only quarts now.
How many did she normally use, I asked.
She pointed to the upper shelves in the garage where another two dozen cartons of quart-size jars lined the walls. After calculating the number of kitchen hours those jars represented, I just wanted to go lie down.
So, in honor of these energetic souls about to take up permanent residence in their kitchens as they frantically capture summer's essence for those leaner months, I'm dedicating this week's column.
Not that they'll notice. They're all out picking rhubarb.
This spring-into-summer crop is one of the easiest fruits to prepare; no peeling, pitting, coring or stemming involved. Freezing is the simplest method for preserving, since rhubarb -- like blueberries, cranberries, currants, figs and gooseberries -- can be prepared without sugar, syrup or juice.
Wash firm, young, well-colored stalks. Dry each stalk well. Trim and cut into desired size pieces to fit your packaging material, then proceed as follows.
Dry pack method (no sugar): Pack the raw, dry pieces tightly into freezer bags or cartons, leaving a half-inch headroom to allow for expansion during freezing; seal and freeze.
Wet pack method (syrup): Pack the raw, dry pieces into freezer bags or cartons, then cover with a cold syrup (see below), leaving a half-inch of headroom to allow for expansion during freezing; seal and freeze.
Syrup: Dissolve 3 cups of sugar thoroughly in 4 cups of hot or cold water. If hot, chill the mixture well before packing. Syrup can be made the day before and refrigerated. Yields 5 1/2 cups.
Figure on 1/2 to 2/3 cup of syrup for each pint container of fruit.
Frozen rhubarb puree
1 pound fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
In a stainless steel or enameled saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar and water. Let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes to begin drawing out the rhubarb juices. Bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it becomes a thick puree, about 30 minutes. Let the puree cool to room temperature and then pack into freezer storage bags or cartons and freeze. To use the puree, simply thaw. Yields about 2 cups of puree.
Note: Instead of freezing, rhubarb puree may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Use the puree to fill tart shells or as a delicious ice cream topping.
The following is one of the best rhubarb chutneys I've ever come across.
Gingery rhubarb chutney
7 cups red-skinned rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 pounds of trimmed rhubarb)
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onions
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon pickling or other fine non-iodized salt
2 teaspoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
Wash 7 half-pint jars (or 3 pint jars and 1 half-pint). Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.
Combine all of the ingredients except the vinegar and corn syrup in a large pot; mix well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the temperature, and simmer the mixture, stirring it occasionally, until the onion pieces are translucent, about 30 minutes.
Add the vinegar and corn syrup and cook uncovered over medium-high heat (the mixture will appear to be very soupy at first, don't worry) until the chutney is thick and the consistency of catsup (with lumps!) about 45 minutes. You will need to stir almost constantly the last 20 minutes or so to keep the chutney from scorching.
Ladle the hot chutney into one hot jar at a time, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process pints and half-pints in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. (Altitude adjustment: For elevations between 1,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level, process for 15 minutes; 6,001 to 9,000 feet, process for 20 minutes.)
Store the jars for 3 weeks before opening. Yields 6 to 7 half-pints.
Adapted from "Fancy Pantry," by Helen Witty.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
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