(Secret) Recipe for Summer Perfection

12 Jun

Dear Bec and Nina,

Summertime is all about perfection.  And from what I saw of your wedding weekend, it fit the bill!  I am so happy for you…as happy as I was one recent sunny Saturday making jam.  And so, I dedicate this post to you: to love, to happiness…to summer perfection!

Love, Emma

When it comes to cooking in the summer, I like to stick to cold salads and other meals that involve minimal cooking heat.  But I regularly make one exception to my hot-weather cooking habits; when it’s time to preserve the summer’s harvest I set no limit to the number of giant pots I might simultaneously set to simmer on the stove top.  To keep things cool in the kitchen I like a cool breeze and an icy cold drink.  This careful ratio of hot water baths to cool relaxation is often elusive.  But one recent Saturday in May, I reached the optimum summer-time happiness ratio: jam-making, fresh apple cider donuts, cold-brewed iced coffee, and a beautiful summer day.

Summer Happiness in a Jar

To thank the many guests we are expecting at our own upcoming nuptial celebration, we plan to give 1/4-pint jars of homemade jam.  The jam will feature locally-grown fruits, to incorporate our general wedding-day theme of celebrating everything that is awesome about Iowa in the summer time.  When the farmers’ market opened in April, I started watching for the first good harvest of rhubarb.  By the time late May (and the juiciest-looking rhubarb stalks) rolled around, I had thawed 2 quarts of pie cherries picked last July from fellow Zoe’s family tree, and purchased 9 dozen 1/4-pint canning jars.  This would be the first of 5 weekends of jamming, in order to accommodate our anticipated guests.

Clearly Awesome

Did you know that most recipes for rhubarb jam call for red food coloring?  Apparently, rhubarb pretty much resembles puke when you cook it up. Out of fear of presenting my wedding guests with an unappetizing-looking jam, I tried adding a few drops of color, with little affect.  The result was a little less green, but not quite the rosy hue you might achieve with more aggressive food color application.

I was skeptical about rhubarb Jam, but there was a plethora of recipes available via Google so I gathered that it was tried and true.  The other fruit available–cherries from my freezer–caused my mom similar hesitation (she is not a fan of tart cherries).  The only solution in my mind, of course, was to combine the two mildly offending fruits. My mom helped make a batch of rhubarb (outrageously delicious, by the way) and then cherry–then I dismissed her, in order to spare her from my afternoon of experimentation.

Stalks of Glory

Ok, it wasn’t so much as an experiment as a self-indulgence.  I had a fresh batch of cold-brewed iced coffee, a homemade apple cider donut from the farmers’ market, and I was about to concoct something that to me sounded like heaven: Cherry-Rhubarb Jam.  To boot, the sun was shining, and the spring’s chill was finally lifting.  The only problem was, I didn’t have a recipe.  After comparing the available approximations, I settled on the average of the two recipes I had just followed for cherry and rhubarb jam.  After preparing the fruit and setting it to simmer on the stove, I started measuring the sugar.  By my calculation, I needed some 12 cups of sugar for my double-batch of jam…too bad my 10-pound bag of sugar was looking a bit empty.  In the end, I crossed my fingers and dumped what was left of my sugar into the pot, resulting in the following recipe:

Emma’s Homemade Cherry-Rhubarb Jam (Double Batch)

4 cups rhubarb

4 cups cherries

5 cups sugar

2 boxes pectin

1 Tbs. butter

Ok, now it was an experiment.  Tasting the jam as I went, it seemed overly sweet.  How could I have cut the sugar by more than half and it was still too sweet?!?!  Again, I crossed my fingers (this is an exercise in “letting-go” that I have learned to perfect during the planning of my wedding) and filled the jam jars.  In the end, the jam was not too sweet–but perfectly balanced with a good bit of tartness!  I could only assume that my morning of tasting jam by the spoonful had spoiled my taste buds.

To celebrate my success, I indulged in a taste of the new superstar of the local market–apple cider donuts:

Something to smile about

And the perfect thirst-quencher for my day of slaving over a pot of boiling fruit and sugar?  My newest summer love (besides donuts, of course)–cold-brewed iced coffee:

Ice Cold Loveliness

If you order iced coffee in a restaurant or shop, you are likely to be handed something that has been hot brewed extra strong, then chilled and poured over ice.  Or worse, poured over ice while still hot.  It may do the trick, but you are missing out on something glorious.  Typical iced coffee – bitterness – acidity + amazing flavor + easier-than-pie home brewing instructions = cold-brewed iced coffee.  We at PvPF have been cold brewing up a storm since last summer – Check out the recipe.

And THEN, when you’re really on a roll: heat equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves.  Add a splash of vanilla, and then use your homemade vanilla syrup to sweeten your iced coffee!  …And I give you: Summer Perfection!

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One Response to “(Secret) Recipe for Summer Perfection”

  1. Zoe June 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    I miss canning pickles with you and being super sweaty. I am excited to sweat with you on Friday, this time just cause it’s hot out, not ’cause we’re standing over a hot water bath!

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