By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
Last week, as I began to gear up for preserving the spring and summer harvests, it occurred to me that a person can get so overwrought with the technicalities and science of the task, that it’s easy to lose sight of the process and what it does for you. Deep down in your soul, I mean. Believe it or not, when you step into a kitchen to wrestle a bushel of produce into shimmering little jars, it focuses your concentration. And, at the end of an activity that leaves no room for mulling extracurricular woes, you come away gloriously refreshed.
Well, your opportunity to capture that harvest is almost upon us. Northwest rhubarb is that close to being ready for harvest. Figure on a week or so. And then it’s on to berries, cherries, peaches, apples and pears. An amazing journey that won’t slow down until the fields of corn are spent, tomato bushes are finally too tuckered and chilled to fruit, and our filbert trees have yielded their nutty treasure.
So while the pace is still leisurely, it’s a good time to assemble what you need for the season. Then — and this is a very important part — set aside a few square feet of kitchen or garage space for these supplies. A box or shelf, whatever it takes to keep all of the essentials organized in one place. Experience has taught me that at those rare moments when time, energy and inclination are aligned you don’t want to undermine your enthusiasm by having to assemble all of the gear.
Processing pot/boiling-water canner: Most of my canning recipes that I’ll be sharing with you throughout the spring and summer provide two choices for storage (which influences how you finish a recipe): refrigeration or room temperature.
Refrigeration (or in some cases, freezing) is the easiest approach, of course. Simply ladle your prepared jam (or relish or jelly) into clean containers, add a lid, and place them in your refrigerator up to a specified amount of time.
But to store foods at room temperature they need to be “processed” in a boiling water canner.
These pots don’t need to be expensive and heavy-duty. In fact, they’re typically made from lightweight aluminum or enameled metal. But they do need to be large enough to hold at least half a dozen canning jars and enough water to cover the jars by at least one inch.
Canning jars: They’re made from sturdy, tempered glass designed to withstand the heat and jostling of a boiling water canner. It’s a false economy to substitute recycled mayonnaise or commercially — made jam jars, because they may break during processing.
Canning lids: If you’ve bought new canning jars, then you will also get the two-piece canning lids. They’re comprised of a flat, round lid or “insert” that comes with a rubberized “sealing compound” around its edges. The second part of the two-piece lid is the “ring” or “metal screw-band,” designed to hold the lid in place. The flat, round lid is a one-time-only piece of gear, since the rubberized sealing compound needs to be fresh. The rings, however, are reusable, as long as they aren’t rusted or dented.
Jar funnel: You need one, trust me. It’s designed to nest on top of an empty canning jar and direct a ladle-full of preserves down into the jar without leaving messy glops on the jar rim or counter.
Jar lifter: Again, you need one. I consider it the manuallly-operated fork-lift of the canning world. Designed to grip a filled-and-capped jar securely around its neck for placing in and removing from a boiling water canner, you really have no alternative method that doesn’t put your fingers and precious jars of preserves in jeopardy.
Lid lifter: What could be more simple and elegant in design: a 6-inch long “wand” with a magnet embedded into the business end, used to fish out the lids from hot water.
Jar rack: Keeps jars off the bottom of the boiling water canner during processing. Also eliminates jostling among the jars, which helps eliminate breakage. You can use the racks that come with the canning kettles.
Thermometer: For determining when your batch of boiling jams and jellies have reached the “gel point.” Although a candy thermometer, clamped to the inside upper rim of the pot will work just fine, I prefer using an “instant read” thermometer to monitor the progress, which eliminates a dangling piece of equipment when you’re trying to give the preserves a good stir.
Canning books: Arrange to have at least one basic guide on hand that offers basic and reliable information and conforms to all of the wishes and recommendations of the United States Department of Agriculture.
To make sure your information is up to date do not purchase any edition that’s been published earlier than 1988, which is when major changes in recommendations for canning tomatoes were made. No. 1 on my list: “Ball Blue Book — Guide to Home Canning, Freezing &Dehydration,” by the Altrista Corporation.
Now, yes we can:
Rhubarb and dried cherry chutney
- 2 pounds fresh rhubarb
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
- 1 tart green apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups dried cherries
- 1 3/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 to 4 jalapeno peppers, seeds and veins removed (note: 4 jalapenos will produce a very hot chutney)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely minced or grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons brown or yellow mustard seed
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon each: paprika, ground coriander
- 2 cups cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup corn syrup
Prepare the rhubarb by washing, trimming and cutting into 1/2-inch dice to measure 6 to 7 cups. In large, non aluminum pot, combine the rhubarb with the onion, apple, cherries, brown sugar, jalapeno peppers, garlic, fresh ginger, mustard seed, salt, paprika, and ground coriander. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to mix well. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent and very tender, about 30 minutes.
Stir in the vinegar and corn syrup, return the mixture to a simmer and continue cooking, uncovered, over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the chutney becomes thick enough to mound slightly in a spoon (about another 20 to 30 minutes). Remove from heat and adjust the seasoning, adding additional salt if necessary. Ladle the preserves into individual containers for storage in the refrigerator or freezer.
For long-term storage at room temperature: Have 7 half-pint canning jars washed and ready for filling when the chutney is through cooking. Prepare canning lids as manufacturer directs. While it is still hot, ladle chutney into 1 clean and hot canning jar at a time, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes (at 1,000 to 3,000 feet, process for 15 minutes; 3,000 to 6,000 feet, for 20 minutes; above 6,000 feet, for 25 minutes).
Makes about 7 half-pints
Rhubarb freezer sauce
A terrific topping for fresh fruit, ice cream and cakes.
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1 cup honey
- 1/2 to 1-teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
Let cool, then pour into small freezer containers and freeze, leaving 1/2-inch head space. To serve, partially thaw the frozen sauce in the refrigerator. Transfer to a saucepan, cover and simmer over low heat until heated through, stirring occasionally.
Recipe adapted from “Preserving Summer’s Bounty,” Edited by Susan McClure, and the staff of the Rodale Food Center.
Makes about 4 cups.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer.