And according to Nigella Lawson, in about six weeks, I will have a perfectly lovely Rhubarb Schnapps.
All I had to do was mix together sugar, rhubarb, and vodka. I also sterilized the jars in a 225 oven for about 10 minutes and let them cool a little, just to be safe. I will happily shake them up every day for the next four weeks or so… because they’re gorgeous. I also manipulated that a little by using the reddest parts of my rhubarb stalks for the schnapps; the (green) remainder I made confit out of, with just sugar and water. This is the first schnapps that I’ve attempted. As with all of my preserves, I am trying to figure out how little sugar I can get away with, and will probably decrease the prescribed amount next time.
As I mentioned a couple posts ago, I’m really into preserving now, and it’s remarkable how fun and easy it is. Fun because I enjoy selecting and fabricating fruit, and easy because making these things require little more work than that… mostly stirring, perhaps boiling, and maybe ladling. There’s a bit of waiting involved w/ the liqueurs, but waiting for a long period of time for something to come to fruition isn’t really waiting when you’re busy with other things. It’s more like giving your future self a gift. You’ll only need to open and enjoy it, or share it with others.
So far, I’ve also made strawberry preserves (camarosas have been the most flavorful to me, but I’ve also tried gaviotas and chandlers), apricot preserves (earlicots and royal gold), candied cherries, and brandied cherries. Tonight, I’ll pickle for the first time ever, to make the pickled onions that I had with the Zuni burger.
Anyway, this is more of a PSA post than anything else… Anyone who wants to capture summer in a jar (before summer even starts!) so that they can enjoy, say, lovely liqueurs and cocktails on hot summer nights might want to start doing something about it right about now.
Books that I’m looking at for preserving ideas…
How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Room for Dessert and Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber
The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Perfect Preserves by Hilaire Walden
And I’ve never loved a ladle more than my square ladle; the flat edges do wonders to get everything out of the pot, and it pours cleanly.
Once I get more certain with my preserving technique, I’ll write about more it. But… I can’t help it — for further encouragement, here are some things that I’m doing…
- In the past, I was always discouraged by the thought of boiling water to sterilize the jars and then moving them around with tongs. Hot shattered glass and boiling water are among the last things I want to deal with in my life. Then I learned about the very dry and very neat oven method, which June Taylor uses. Simply put your jars (without lids) on a sheet pan in a 225 oven for about 10 minutes. I do this when I begin cooking, and then turn off the oven until my preserves are ready. Then I slide out the rack with the sheet pan and ladle in the preserves from above before sealing and moving them to a wire rack to cool overnight.
- If you’re making preserves to eat soon, don’t worry about jars. Just put them into a container that you can refrigerate, and keep them chilled.
- I took a marmalade class with June Taylor last year, and her advice has stuck in my mind — use the least amount of sugar possible, choose the smallest fruit, and avoid commercial pectin. All of this is to create a preserve that has the purest, most intense flavor. Traditional recipes call for a lot of sugar — often equal weight as the fruit. June Taylor’s preserves are about 20% sugar… and yours can be be, too. She said that large fruit is often amped up with water, which dilutes the flavor… and goes against a “bigger is better” mantra. Luckily, you’ll sometimes find smaller fruit on sale for lower prices, simply because of their size. Take advantage of that because low sugar, no-additive preserves means that each jar contains a lot of fruit — and fruit is always more expensive than sugar. When I calculate the cost of fruit for each pint jar of preserves that I’ve made so far, they run between $3.00 to $5.00/jar.
- Cook at high heat in relatively small batches (I do about 2# of fruit per pot, and have made a couple pots in a night). This will help preserve the flavor of the fruit, so that it doesn’t taste cooked. If cooking that much at once is intimidating, cook in batches in a non-stick saute pan; you’ll get more familiar with how it acts with every batch — and such a small size will only take 3-5 minutes each. The LATimes does it this way.
- Firm-ripe and organic fruits are best. Herbs, spices, and combinations of fruit are fair game in preserves. Always have lemons on hand so that the juice can add acidity.
And thanks to Erin for starting me on the preserving-with-alcohol kick. Back when I was looking up rhubarb recipes, I came across this post about her rhubarb schnapps last year. It made me realize that the only thing better to add to fruit than sugar and water is alcohol.
And thanks to my reader, Aaron, who gave me great advice to start off my preserve-making.