A Better Way to Make Cherry Chutney

cherry-rhubarb chutney
Cherry-Rhubarb Chutney with grilled chicken

With some of the big, dark cherries the Washington State Fruit Commission sent me last year, I made a tasty chutney. It disappointed me, though. The cherries were so mild in flavor that the spices and vinegar overwhelmed them, and when cooked down the cherries lost their appealing meatiness. The chutney might have been made from almost any dark fruit.

I knew that the flavor of these cherries was too muted to shine in any sort of canned product, but this year I challenged myself to cook them into a chutney in which they would stand out anyway, for their shape and fleshy texture. I made the challenge even harder by also deciding to use rhubarb, which usually turns to mush with a few minutes’ cooking. The way to get what I wanted, I figured, was to combine the ingredients of an English-style chutney with a method of making fruit preserves—that is, I cooked the mixture slow, in the oven.

The chutney turned out beautiful. The tartness of the rhubarb complements the sweetness of the cherries, and the cherries lend the rhubarb better color. And you can tell at a glance that you’re eating cherries and rhubarb, not some mystery fruit.

Cherry-Rhubarb Chutney

2 pounds dark sweet cherries, pitted
2 pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch chunks
¼ pound onion, cut into wedges
2½ cups light brown sugar
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds, toasted in a dry pan until they pop
2 tablespoons chile flakes
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons canning and pickling salt
2 cups cider vinegar

Set the oven to 250 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients in a large nonreactive, oven-safe pot. Put the pot, uncovered, into the hot oven.

After 40 minutes, gently stir the mixture. The sugar should have dissolved.

After another 40 minutes, stir gently again.

After a final 40 minutes, remove the pot from the oven. With a slotted spoon, transfer the solids to a bowl, leaving the cinnamon sticks in the pot. Boil the liquid on the stove top, with the pot uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until the liquid is reduced approximately in half, to a syrup.

Remove the cinnamon sticks from the syrup, and return the fruit to the pot. Heat the mixture gently, without stirring, just to a boil. Ladle the chutney into pint or half-pint mason jars. Add lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water or steam canner for 10 minutes.

Makes 3 ½ pints

 

 

 

 

Another Use for Angelica

blooming angelica Blooming exactly in accordance with European folk tradition is this Angelica archangelica, whose flowers burst forth in my garden on May 8, the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. When you see flowering angelica you may have missed your chance to cut stems for preserving—unless you also find some first-year plants, which will wait until next year to blossom. Happily, I have a bed crowded with both first- and second-year angelica.

Upon seeing the blooms I hurried to cut a few young, all-green stems (the flowering ones turn red), because I remembered that I’d wanted to make a traditional northern European preserve that combines stalks of both angelica and rhubarb. I thank Laura Content, of Portland, for telling me about—

rhubarb-angelica preservesRhubarb-Angelica Preserves

2/3 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 pound rhubarb stalks
½ pound angelica stalks

In a preserving pan, slowly dissolve the sugar in the water, and bring the syrup to a boil.

As the syrup heats, cut the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Peel the angelica stalks, and cut them it into slender rings. Add the angelica and rhubarb to the hot syrup, stir, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer it very gently for an hour or longer, stirring very little if at all, until the rhubarb is quite tender and the syrup is somewhat thickened. Keep in mind that the preserves will thicken more as they cool.

Ladle the preserves into four half-pint sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 5 minutes.

The recipe to which Laura referred me was actually one for rhubarb-angelica jam. If you want a jammy texture, you can simply stir the preserves during or after cooking. But I think that preserves are prettier, especially if your rhubarb is the red-skinned kind.

Angelica has a strong aroma that mystifies and even scares people unfamiliar with it. If you’d prefer to tone down the angelica, at least the first time that you try this recipe, simply increase the weight of rhubarb in relation to the angelica. Try, say, 1¼ pounds rhubarb to ¼ pound angelica.

If you really love angelica, you might use proportionally more than called for here. One reader of this blog wrote that Icelanders use equal parts rhubarb and angelica in their preserves. That might take some getting used to, but I already like angelica in this more modest role.

From the First of the Year’s Rhubarb: A Compote

rhubarb-strawberrry compoteMaybe you remember the Rhubarb-Rose Preserves I made the year before last? The recipe was inspired by a simple dessert in Margaret Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. The beauty of Margaret’s dessert, and of my preserves, is that the rhubarb pieces stay intact instead of falling apart, because they’re cooked in the oven rather than on the stovetop.

With my first harvest of rhubarb this spring, I wanted to make a dessert like Margaret’s, but I wanted it red, not greenish. I have one rhubarb plant whose stalks are red both inside and out, but they weren’t ready to harvest yet. All my other rhubarb plants have green stalks with red-speckled skins. I couldn’t add roses to the mix, because none are blooming here yet, and strawberries don’t ripen until June. But I had plenty of strawberries from last year still in the freezer. So I made this lovely dessert:

Baked Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote

1¼ pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch lengths
1¼ pounds hulled strawberries
2/3 cup sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the rhubarb, strawberries and sugar together in a baking dish. Bake the compote for an hour or longer, until the rhubarb is quite tender but still intact. There will be a lot of liquid in the dish, but the compote will thicken as it cools.

Serve the compote hot, cooled, or chilled, on its own or with pound cake, shortcake, or ice cream. 

Makes about 4 cups compote 

If the amount of sugar in this recipe seems high, keep in mind that rhubarb is very tart and not noticeably sweet at all.

If you like, add a cinnamon stick or ground ginger along with the other ingredients.

Win Canning Jars, Lids, and The Joy of Jams!

Fillmore jars
Fruits of the season in Fillmore Container jars

Today marks the start of a contest for a set of gifts from Fillmore Container: a dozen  straight-sided, slightly tapered, unembossed half-pint jelly jars; a dozen one-piece caps in the winner’s choice of color; and a copy of The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, my guide to making all kinds of traditional sweet preserves in traditional ways, without added pectin.

The canning jars are just like half-pint Ball and Kerr jars except that there are no lumpy parts to avoid when affixing a label. Unlike Ball and Kerr jars, these jars come in a box with top flaps, which you can fold down to protect your preserves from dust and light when you store and transport them.

Fillmore jar lidsThe caps come in three colors: gold, silver, and white (black ones aren’t currently available but will be later this year). The raised center of each cap makes the vacuum seal easy to see. The sealing ring is white, as is the rest of the cap’s underside. Called Plastisol, the sealing compound is appropriate for both boiling-water canning and pressure-canning. The lids should be briefly soaked in hot water to soften the Plastisol before they are screwed on to the jars.

Because people who don’t do their own canning are often flummoxed by flat jar lids, one-piece caps are nice to have when you’re planning to sell your preserves or give them to friends or relatives. And I’m especially pleased that I can place a 2 ½-inch round label on top of one of these caps without some of the type ending up covered by a ring.

Only U.S. residents are eligible for this contest. To enter, simply append a comment to this post by June 3. A winner will be chosen at random the next day.

By the way, you can probably tell from the top photo that it’s rhubarb season in my garden. The recipes for Rhubarb-Rose Jam and Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam are from The Joy of Jams, except that for this batch of Rhubarb-Rose I increased the quantity of rose petals (from pink-flowered rugosas) to 4 ounces, with a beautifully colorful result. For another idea about what to do with all that rhubarb, see my recipe for Blueberry-Rhubarb Jam, in my guest blog post on the Fillmore Container site.

Baked Rhubarb-Rose Preserves

Thanks to yet another cool, damp June—the new normal for our region?—the moss rose outside my kitchen window has been putting on a lovely show for the past several weeks. I’m never satisfied just looking at the pillowy pink flowers, burst from inconceivably slender mossy buds, and inhaling their delicious scent. I have to eat them, too.

So a couple of weeks ago I put up several pints of strawberry-rose jam and thought, What next? My rhubarb plants had been drinking up the rain and growing monstrous. Last year I combined roses and rhubarb with strawberries in a heavenly jam. Now I wondered how rhubarb and roses would work as a duo.

I considered a recipe I’d jotted down from Margaret Rudkin’s old Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. All my life I’ve been eating rhubarb sauce made on the stovetop. Sauce is the right word for the stuff, because rhubarb breaks down with brief boiling to a greenish, reddish, fibrous mush. As a child I loved this springtime alternative to applesauce. But rhubarb sauce, as I’d always known it, was ugly.

Margaret cooked her rhubarb in the oven, she wrote, and the pieces stayed handsomely intact. With the addition of pink or red roses, maybe I could both improve the color of the rhubarb and make the flavor more interesting. And why not can the result to enjoy months later?

So I created the recipe that follows. The roses intensify the red of the rhubarb without disguising the green, and the rosy scent balances the sour and sweet tastes. Served on pound cake or sponge cake, baked rhubarb with rose petals looks nearly as elegant as it tastes and smells.

Baked Rhubarb-Rose Preserves

2 pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup sugar
2 ounces pink or red fragrant rose petals, their bases clipped, if they’re thick

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the rhubarb pieces and sugar in a baking dish, and put the dish into the hot oven.

After 30 minutes, add the rose petals, and turn the mixture gently. Bake about 15 minutes more, until the rhubarb is tender but still intact. Spoon the mixture into hot mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Be sure to run a chopstick or plastic stick around the inner surface of the jar to free trapped air. Process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.

 

Frozen Blueberries Love Fresh Rhubarb

In jams, pies, cobblers, and other sweet treats, rhubarb routinely gets paired with strawberries, for good reasons: Rhubarb and strawberries tend to reach the peak of their seasons together, and strawberries disguise the often lackluster color of rhubarb (although all-green rhubarb can be attractive on its own; see my recipe for Green Rhubarb Jam).

But in a spring as cool the one we’re experiencing in thePacific Northwestnow, local strawberries lag behind the rhubarb. There’s hardly a spot of red in the berry patches yet, and nobody wants to substitute hard, green-centered strawberries from California for sweet, tender red fruits from the garden or farm stand. This is a good time, though, to clean out the freezer, to make room for the abundance that will come (it will, really). And amid the pork chops and pesto may lurk bags and bags of last year’s fruit. My friend Sally hauls all out all her frozen fruit this time of year to make a batch of mixed-fruit wine. I make jam.

I decided to make jam from the last of last summer’s blueberries combined with the first of this year’s rhubarb. The pairing worked: The rhubarb took on the deep-blue color of the berries, lent an interesting texture, and balanced the berries’ high pectin content so I could use minimal sugar and yet avoid a tough jell. To eliminate the unpleasant fibrousness of cooked blueberries, I first heated the berries separately and then pressed them through a food mill. The result is a lusciously soft, dark jam that seems the essence of blueberry until you notice the tart yet subtle background note of rhubarb.

Supposing no blueberries turn up in your freezer, wait a few weeks. With adequate watering, your rhubarb will still be going strong when the first blueberries ripen. Then you can mix the two deliciously in jam—or in a pie, a tart. a crisp, or a cobbler.

Blueberry-Rhubarb Jam

1 1/2 pounds blueberries
1 pound trimmed rhubarb (leaves and tough bases cut off), cut into small pieces
3 1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

If the berries are frozen, let them thaw.

In a broad, heavy-bottomed pan, simmer the blueberries, covered, for about 5 minutes. Press them though the fine disk of a food mill.

Combine the berry puree in the pan with the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high, and boil the mixture, while still stirring frequently, until the rhubarb breaks down and a bit of the jam mounds in a chilled bowl, or until the temperature of the mixture reaches 221 degrees F. This should take no more than 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Skim the foam from the jam, and ladle the jam into sterilized half-pint mason jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Close the jars, and process them for 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

Remove the jars to a rack or pad, and let them stand undisturbed for 24 hours, after which time the jam should be well set. Store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Makes about 6 half-pints

June in a Jar

Alexandria strawberry

This year’s long, wet spring in western Oregon pleased my Alexandria strawberries, which I planted last year under the arching canes of an old climbing rose. The pale pink roses, white from a distance, are just beginning to bloom, and breathing in their fragrance while tasting the just-ripe berries made me dream of my jam pot.

Introduced by Park Seed in 1964, Alexandria is one of several seed-propagated varieties of Fragaria vesca, the European woodland or alpine strawberry. Although the fruits of Alexandria are bigger than those of other F. vesca cultivars, the longest of my berries measure less than an inch. The fruits ripen over a long period, so you have to plant a lot of starts if you want to collect enough berries for jam. For these reasons, many gardeners treat the Alexandria strawberry as an ornamental ground cover rather than a food source. But eating one of the perfectly ripe berries produces a shocking rush of flavor. However jaded you are from crunching gigantic green-picked strawberries from California, you will recognize Alexandria’s flavor as the essence of strawberry.

I collected a couple of handfuls of berries and then looked up at the rose bower. I hadn’t yet made rose preserves this year, and I’d missed the peak bloom of both the rugosas and the delicate pink wild roses. But I knew I could find roses enough to combine with the strawberries. The flowers overhead were too pale for a red jam, sadly. For better color and an equally delicious aroma, I collected some pink moss roses, pulling the blossoms away from each calyx with one hand and, with the other, clipping off each petal’s pale, slightly bitter base with the tiny scissors of my pocket knife.

Then I remembered the rhubarb stalks I’d harvested a few hours earlier. Rhubarb can be problematic for preservers and bakers because it is typically ambivalent about color. The varieties that are red inside and out tend to lack vigor, and all-green varieties are hard to find. Most rhubarb in home gardens has red or red-speckled  skin but green flesh, and even red rhubarb skin may lose much of its color in the wrong growing conditions. The color problem is one reason that rhubarb is so often combined with strawberries. The happy marriage of flavors is another reason; the tartness of the rhubarb complements the sweet perfume of the strawberries. But full-scented roses marry well with rhubarb and strawberry both, so why not a ménage-a trois? This I had to try.

Rhubarb–Rose–Alpine Strawberry Jam

1 pound rhubarb, cut crosswise ½ inch thick
3 ounces Alexandria strawberries (about ¾ cup)
2 ½ ounces fragrant unsprayed rose petals (about 1½ cups, well packed)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups sugar

In a bowl, gently mix the ingredients. Cover the bowl, and leave it at room temperature for about 8 hours, until the sugar has mostly dissolved.

Pour the mixture into a preserving pan, and set the pan over medium heat. Stir gently. When the sugar is completely dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high. Boil, stirring occasionally.
 
The mixture will thicken in just a few minutes as the rhubarb fibers separate. When the mixture has reached a jam-like consistency, remove the pan from the heat. Ladle the jam into jars, and close them. You should have about 3 cups.

You can process the jars in a boiling-water bath, if you like, for 5 minutes if you have sterilized them or 10 minutes if you haven’t.

To smell and to eat, this jam is fantastic. I have captured June in a jar.