The Rhubarb Conspires


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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

Elise also has good posts and recipes.

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.

10 Responses to “The Rhubarb Conspires”

  1. Garrett Says:

    I adore rhubarb, and rhubarb schnapps sounds fantastic!!!

  2. Aaron Says:

    I’m so glad you are having such success and such a good time! I made Brooks cherry-rosemary two days ago that came out really well. Summer is preserving time. With a bit of work and ingenuity, we can all savor the short months of the glorious season a little bit longer. Everyone get your jars ready….stonefruit has arrived.

  3. Nina Says:

    Garrett - Thanks!

    Aaron - OMG, the fruit is gorgeous right now… I look forward to walking through the farmer’s markets like I used to look forward to seeing new movies! And I can only guess that it’s going to get better and better. I miss the Davis farmer’s market and the SF Ferry Building, but wow, the Santa Monica and Hollywood markets are pretty amazing.

    And Brooks cherry-rosemary? YUM! I’m going to start making multi-flavor preserves any batch now… I can feel it… :)

  4. erin Says:

    Hey Nina–glad you found the post and are trying it out. I loved it. Also, thanks for the tips on canning/sterilizing, especially the dry oven method.

    Last summer/fall I did peach-passionfruit jam, plum jam, apple butter and confit tomatos (from a chezpim recipe). All have served me well thruout the year. I’m planning another big round this year before I leave for New York–a way to take CA’s bounty with me :)

  5. Nina Says:

    Erin - I can’t wait for the schnapps to be ready! If I buy rhubarb again this season before it’s ready, I’m going to use the confit syrup like a simple syrup in a cocktail to hold me over until the schnapps is ready.

    And your preserves sound so good! Peach and passion fruit combines two of my favorite flavors. And yeah, we’re pretty spoiled here, but the Union Square Greenmarket won’t be half bad… and will hopefully have more rhubarb available. :) I read somewhere the other day that it needs a cold winter to grow properly… which explains a lot.

  6. lucette Says:

    I did canning for the 1st time last summer, so I’ve gotten over my fear of it. I’m thinking of trying strawberry jam. I’m interested in that oven sterilizing technique–maybe I’ll try that.

  7. Nina Says:

    I made a lot of strawberry jam to start off, and it’s probably my favorite. One batch didn’t set up enough, but it’s still great with yogurt!

  8. the666bbq Says:

    Hi Nina, this really is a winner recipe isn’t it. Friends who visit it ask me “do you have it this year” or “is it ready yet” all the time. But my color isn’t usually as bright as yours (and the original), a bit more green like the peeled stalks. Should I not peel and use only the red parts (always heared that was the toxic part, therefor “I’m a peeler”), do I still have too much air in the pot, …

    nice dessert blog you have ;-)

  9. Nina Says:

    It’s definitely one of my favorite liqueurs. A spiced blackcurrent one is its main rivial in my liquor cabinet. :)

    I don’t peel the stalks. Hm, I thought that the leaves were toxic. The rhubarb in SoCal isn’t the greatest (I don’t think the climate is right for it), so I was ultra-sensitive to the color and only used the red part of the stalks. For the green parts, I just made a compote. :)

    And thank you!!!

  10. the666bbq Says:

    you’re welcome ;-)

    apparently yes, it are only the leaves than contain oxalic acid that can be poisonous when eaten. Well that’s another thing demystified ;-)

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