Granulated sugar (Recipe: strawberry rhubarb jam)
On a shelf in my kitchen, fourteen glass storage jars, all the same size and shape, hold things we use every day.
Special-K, oat bran flakes and granola.
Dried beans in shades of red and white and pink and pied, all mixed together.
Leftover dried pasta in a variety of shapes, all mixed together. (I toss a handful here and there into soup.)
Five pounds of all-purpose flour, five pounds of whole wheat flour, five pounds of kosher salt, five pounds of long-grain rice.
And five pounds of granulated sugar.
For a family of dieters and diabetics -- and my husband Ted, our resident chocolate chip cookie expert -- the standard five-pound bag of sugar is nearly a year's supply, except when we're baking cookies for donation. We use agave nectar, honey and artificial sweeteners more often, not only for baking, but also to balance the tartness or acidity in savory dishes like basic tomato sauce.
Granulated sugar comes from either sugar cane or beets which have been processed, allowed to crystallize, and then dried so that the crystals do not clump together. Store sugar in a cool, dry place, and it should remain clump-free. If your sugar does clump, restore it with a quick whiz in a food processor.
Recipes that call for sugar usually mean granulated sugar unless another type is specified.
In baking, sugar adds volume, texture, color and tenderness. Because sugar holds moisture, it is also a preservative, extending the shelf life of baked goods.
Without sugar, there would be no sugar cookies (mon dieu!), no white chocolate and fresh ginger ice cream, no coconut sugar cake, no ginger scones, no snickerdoodles, no key lime layer cake. And no jam for English muffins.
Strawberry rhubarb jam
My friend Bev stopped by for tea last week with four stalks of rhubarb from her garden. Not enough for a pie, but just the right amount to make two little jars of jam. This recipe was inspired by many sources.
4 stalks rhubarb, washed, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 strawberries, trimmed, cut in half
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan or small stock pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, or until the fruit has broken down. Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the jam until it's smooth. Transfer to two small glass jars that have been sterilized in boiling water. Let cool for 20-30 minutes to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours to allow the jam to thicken. Keep refrigerated, and use within three weeks. (Jars also can be processed in a water bath for longer storage.)