‘Summer kitchen’ is where our most ambitious dishes began

“Summer kitchen.” It sounds so lyrical, conjuring up images of 19th-century farmhouses, big, stone fireplaces and just-plucked wildflowers arranged in glass jars and perched on the window sill next to fresh-baked pies.

Our household had a summer kitchen, but it was anything but picturesque. It was the large, cool basement space reserved for the hottest, smelliest and messiest of cooking chores. The coated concrete floor could easily be swabbed up after frying raised doughnuts atop the old gas stove, and the just-picked chokecherries could be crushed and processed without staining Mom’s new “no-wax” floor upstairs.

This all-purpose room is also where we processed and canned vegetables from our garden, shaved sweet corn off the cob for blanching and freezing and, as a special treat, fried homemade french fries or shrimp.

A stint in the summer kitchen typically meant a stretch of hard labor, yet we also looked forward to those days. We would form an assembly line to wash, slice and vacuum-seal produce, grind up Juneberries and chokecherries in the weird, cone-shaped colander that Mom kept for that sole purpose or help with the jobs of frying and glazing doughnuts.

“Chokecherry days” typically started with Mom or Dad backing the pickup into one of the more productive chokecherry groves, then picking the clusters of deep-purple berries till our arms were sunburned and our hands stained with juice. Although we knew the berries had little flesh because of their large stones and that the flavor was sweetly astringent, we still couldn’t resist sampling the ripest, blue-black ones. When our plastic ice cream buckets and 5-gallon pails were full, we would happily head back to the farmhouse to help Mom make jars and jars of chokecherry jelly, juice and syrup.

As Mom used an ancient wooden pestle to crush the berries in the cone-shaped colander (which I later learned had the schmancy French handle “chinois”), we added the sugar and lemon juice as directed, stirred the juice as it bubbled on the cooktop, fetched jars and did whatever else was needed to temporarily turn a farm basement into a Smucker’s factory. The perfume of crushed, cooked berries filled the basement. There’s nothing quite like the smell of crushed and processed chokecherries; it’s a sharply sweet, wine-y aroma.

But “doughnut days” were the best. Mom had no trouble recruiting kitchen help when she announced plans to make her raised doughnuts. We grew so anxious we could barely stand waiting for the dough to rise. Mom typically took on the more dangerous work of frying the doughnuts, while we kids became the glazers. We used long metal skewers to dunk the golden pastries in glaze, then held them over the glaze bowl to let the excess drip away.

The work was boring, but delicious. I still think Krispy Kreme could have learned a thing or two from Mom, who managed to make the lightest, fluffiest and least greasy fried sweets on earth.

Chokecherry Syrup

Ingredients:

4 cups chokecherry juice (see instructions below)

4 cups granulated sugar

½ cup lemon juice

½ teaspoon almond extract

Half of a 1.75-ounce box Sure-Jell pectin

Directions to make chokecherry juice:

Wash berries (as a general rule, you’ll need 4 cups of berries to make 1 cup of juice). Place in large pot and cover with water. Boil for 15-20 minutes, then let berries cool. Meanwhile, line large colander with cheesecloth and place in a large bowl. Use a wooden pestle to mash berries inside colander to extract juice (take special care not to crush seeds).

Directions to make syrup:

Mix together juice, sugar, lemon juice, almond extract and Sure-Jell in a large pot. Heat, stirring frequently, to boiling; boil for 2 minutes. Pour in hot, sterilized jars; wipe jar mouths and seal. Process in hot-water bath for 10 minutes. Check that all jars are sealed before storing.

Raised Doughnuts

Ingredients for dough:

2 packages yeast

2 cups warm water

2 cups warm milk

1 ½ cups lard or butter

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 to 2 cups mashed potatoes

5 to 6 cups flour

Ingredients for glaze:

1 pound powdered sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup butter, melted

Hot water

Directions for doughnuts:

Place yeast in warm water (somewhere between 95 and 115 degrees). In a separate bowl, add warm milk to shortening. Cool, then mix all dough ingredients together, kneading in enough flour to make a soft, elastic dough. Allow dough to rise, then roll out on a floured board and cut into doughnuts. Cover with plastic or cloth and let rise until doubled in size.

In deep-fat fryer, heat oil to 365 degrees. Brown doughnuts, turning to fry both sides until light golden-brown. Cool on paper towels.

Directions for glaze:

Combine powdered sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and butter, then stir in enough hot water to make a thin glaze. Use a skewer or fork to dip cooled doughnuts into glaze, allowing excess glaze to drip back into glaze bowl. Doughnuts freeze well — if any are left after family members “help” you make them!

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.