Berries kick off preserving season
It’s beginning to be strawberry season, and it is definitely rhubarb season. If I could get my act together, maybe I’d be baking delicious rhubarb galettes and preserving plenty of rhubarb, frozen and/or canned, instead of rushing from one appointment to the next and preparing hasty grilled cheese sandwiches to eat cold, later, for breakfast.
This, however, is why sometimes it’s really nice when your preserves last for more than one year.
Come to think of it, rhubarb preserves might be quite tasty on a cold grilled cheese sandwich. Or maybe that’s the lack of sleep talking.
At any rate, there are those who advocate preserving just enough to get through a single year, and others who point out that having enough for two years leaves you some leeway for the times the harvest fails, or life interferes with your preserving efforts in one way or another.
And still others, who like to grow their own or who go with preserving whatever the harvest provides — some years a lot, some years a little. Tree fruits, in particular, can lend themselves to this approach, as they are sometimes prone to alternate year harvests, especially if not thinned. Wildly variable spring weather adds to the annual uncertainties of harvest, and so when a good year hits, some cooks like to make the most of it, on the assumption the fruit might have to last quite awhile until the next good year.
Low sugar canned fruit can provide all sorts of uses: toppings for pancakes, custards and oven pancakes; crisps, cobblers and the like; stand-alone desserts, and so on. It’s invaluable to have on hand. My own favorites are the more richly flavored selections: apples, sour cherries, spiced blackberries, tart rhubarb, aromatic quinces. With a pantry filled with those glowing preserves, spur-of-the-moment baking becomes easy.
We also dry large amounts of fruit for various uses: lunch snacks, granola, baking, tossing in salads, giving as gifts, and so on. Sometimes I even use them for flavoring water or herb tea. Dried rhubarb is great for this; also dried raspberries, strawberries and fragrant sour plums. Just a few pieces can lift an otherwise ho-hum herb tea into another realm.
Strawberries have become a favorite dried item, in fact; they turn out rather tart, but delicious; wonderful in granola or scones, with minced candied ginger.
We also, of course, dry masses of herbs for culinary and tea uses. Favorite tea herbs include lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon geranium (not that we have a theme going here), and sometimes lemon thyme. Spearmint and peppermint are classics, of course, and I’ve also used rose petals, honeysuckle blossoms, anise hyssop, stinging nettle and pineapple sage.
Raspberry and blackberry leaves are both common herb tea ingredients, although I always forget to harvest and dry ours, despite annual good intentions.
Busy as it is, there’s a great deal of satisfaction to be found in this season, as you fill dehydrator trays and glass jars with your dried and canned herbs and fruits, and begin to refill the emptying freezer, for the winter that, however far off it seems now, will be here before we know it.
Nicole Montesano can be reached at email@example.com.