On very few occasions would my kitchen qualify for the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for tidiness.
But on this particular afternoon, things were especially bad. Anyone who has spent a day putting up a supply of jams or jellies already has conjured the image and would understand that after five hours of paring, pitting, slicing, stirring, sweating and lugging massive amounts of food and canning supplies around my kitchen, I'm ready for a nap.
This is one of the easiest fruits to prepare; no peeling, pitting, coring or stemming involved. Freezing is the simplest method for preserving because rhubarb — like many berries — can be prepared without sugar, syrup or juice.
Wash firm, young, well-colored stalks. Dry each stalk well. Trim and cut into pieces to fit your packaging material, then proceed as follows.
Dry-pack method (no sugar): Pack raw, dry pieces tightly into freezer bags or cartons, leaving 1Ā"2-inch of head room to allow for expansion during freezing; seal and freeze.
Wet-pack method (syrup): Pack raw, dry pieces into freezer bags or cartons, then cover with a cold syrup (see below), leaving 1/2 inch of head room to allow for expansion during freezing; seal and freeze.
Syrup: Dissolve 3 cups sugar thoroughly in 4 cups hot or cold water. If hot, chill mixture well before packing. Syrup can be made a day before and refrigerated. Yields 5 1/2 cups. Figure on 1/2 to 2/3 cup syrup for each pint container of fruit.
So when my husband entered the scene and gazed admiringly upon the row of gleaming jars, I found little comfort in his words: "I think we could really say our life was in order if we were preserving all of the food this family needed."
I edited my response down to two words: "Get real."
But the truth is there are plenty of families doing just that. Really. And I admire them tremendously. They move through the preserving season, from fruit to vegetable, U-pick field to roadside stand, ferreting out the freshest, most bountiful offerings of summer.
One neighbor on our block was displaying over two dozen CARTONS of surplus canning jars at a garage sale. They were all pints and half-pints, she explained, as I combed hungrily through the precious cache. Her family was using only quarts now.
How many did she normally use? I asked.
She pointed to the upper shelves in the garage where another two dozen cartons of quart-sized jars lined the walls. After calculating the number of kitchen hours those jars represented, I just wanted to go lie down.
So, in honor of these energetic souls about to take up permanent residence in their kitchens as they frantically capture summer's essence for those leaner months, I dedicate this week's column.
Not that they'll notice. They're all out picking rhubarb.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.