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Fresh Rhubarb Needs Sweetening

May 31, 1990|JOAN DRAKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Question: I enjoyed eating rhubarb while growing up, but have never prepared it myself. Can you please provide some basic instructions?

Answer: According to "Sunset Fresh Produce A to Z" (Lane Publishing, 1987): "Because rhubarb is so tart, it is almost always eaten cooked and sweetened with sugar." To prepare, remove and discard leaves; rinse stalks well. Slice crosswise into pieces as directed in individual recipes.

For basic cooking, the book advises: "Cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces and cook, uncovered, in just enough water to cover until soft (about 15 minutes). Then sweeten with sugar to taste (about 1/2 cup per pound of rhubarb); continue cooking until sugar is dissolved (about five minutes)."

Q: Do you have a recipe for pickling asparagus? I tasted some at a party where they were served with Bloody Marys.

A: We found the following recipe for Pickled Asparagus Tips in "Jean Anderson's Green Thumb Preserving Guide" (Quill, 1984). The author describes the pickles as "fairly crisp, slightly sweet, slightly sour and delicately scented with dill. You need asparagus tips only, so save the stalks and make into a puree. Freeze the puree, then use as a base for making soups and souffles."

Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) is necessary in this recipe to prevent the asparagus from becoming mushy. It may be purchased at pharmacies.

PICKLED ASPARAGUS TIPS

30 medium asparagus spears

2 quarts cold water

2 teaspoons slaked lime (calcium hydroxide)

1 1/2 cups vinegar

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon white mustard seeds

1 teaspoon dill seeds

1 small white onion, sliced tissue-thin and separated into rings

2 small hot red chiles, fresh or dried

Break off tough ends of asparagus spears, then cut each spear to measure 3 3/4 inch. Peel scales from stalks. Place asparagus tips in large enamel or stainless steel kettle, pour in water mixed with slaked lime and let stand, uncovered, at room temperature 2 hours.

Drain asparagus tips well, then rinse several times in cool, clear water. Drain well again.

Wash and rinse 2 (1/2-pint) preserving jars and closures. Keep jars and closures immersed in simmering water until ready to use.

Mix vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard and dill seeds in large, heavy enamel or stainless steel saucepan. Add onion rings and bring to boil. Boil 1 minute, then add asparagus spears and chiles. Boil, covered, exactly 1 minute.

Pack hot asparagus, tips down, in hot jars. (Make ring of tips around inner edge of jar, then fill in center.) Use thin-bladed small spatula or table knife to help arrange asparagus tips as neatly as possible. Spears should fit, leaving 1/2 inch head room at top of jar.

Place 1 chile in each jar, then pour hot pickling liquid into jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Asparagus should be fully covered.

Wipe jar rims and seal. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Lift jars from water bath and cool to room temperature. Check seal, label and store on cool, dark, dry shelf. Makes 2 (1/2-pints).

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