Thursday, August 2, 2012

Learning to Can Jelly!

I have always wanted to learn to can. It just seems so domestic and a great way to preserve food. With the price of food constantly going up, I thought it would also benefit economically. So I began reading everything I could about it. I surfed the net and checked out books at the library. Also, we have a Williams-Sonoma store at our local mall which has free cooking classes every Sunday at 1 pm. They frequently have canning classes and I attended two of them. I loved their cooking utensils for canning, but the price was more than I wanted to dish out for an experiment. Fortunately, Walmart has all the basics that you need at a very reasonable price. Also, Pioneer Woman has a great tutorial on how to can with lots of pictures. Also see part 2 of her canning series.

Now what to can? Hmmmmm.

My kids have gone to the same school for six years. I have driven this road hundreds of times. I just happened to notice at a stop sign that the driveway was lined with trees that bloomed beautifully in the spring and currently have all these cherry size green things on them.

So I stopped and picked a few. Then, because I am clueless about trees, I took them to a local nursery that sells many trees and plants and asked. I also looked them up online just to be sure they knew what they were talking about. It turns out that these lovely little balls are crab apples! Lots and lots of crab apples. Thousands. There are at least four different kinds of crab apples on the property. In six years, I have never seen anyone pick these crab apples. Not once.

Huh. Buckets of fruit at my fingertips, growing along the driveway of my kids' school and I had no idea.

Free fruit.

FREE FRUIT!

Of course I quickly googled crab apple jelly and found some great recipes to try and even a few videos on how to do it on YouTube. According to what I learned, crab apples are most ripe in August/September but if you are making jelly, you should have them slightly less than full ripeness which is now (end of July/beginning of August). Even though I took the kids three times to pick fruit, it did not even put a dent in the quantity on the trees.

I must warn you though, because the fruit is small, it is time consuming to remove stems, blossom ends and cut any blemishes away. However, I think it is worth it! It's also full of pectin which is what makes jelly jelly. So you can add other fruit or herbs to it to change the flavor, using it as a base. And you don't have to buy pectin to add! Just a tip: If you let the fruit sit on your counter a few days before beginning, the stems come off much easier. I found this out on my second batch.

After viewing many recipes and a couple of videos, I began with this recipe for spiced crab apple jelly. It took two days to accomplish. I got through to the straining and allowed it to strain overnight.

On a side note, I submitted a jar of my first ever batch to our local county fair this past week and won first place for apple jelly. WOO HOO! It's a winner!


Spiced Crab Apple Jelly

Ingredients:

7 lbs crab apples (this is about two plastic store bags mostly full), cleaned and halved (end flower cut off and any spots removed)
2 cinnamon sticks
Abt 10 whole cloves
Abt 10 cups of water
8 cups of sugar

Directions:

After cleaning and halving crab apples, place in one or two pots and divide the water. Boil until apples become soft. Replace water as needed. It should easily cover all the apples. As apples become cooked, mash them with a masher. Water should still be fluid. Drain apples with a colander saving the liquid and keeping the apple pulp for the moment. Drain the liquid in the colander again only this time line with coffee filters. You should end up with about 8 cups of liquid. If you do not have that much put some pulp back into the pot, add water and bring to a boil. Do same process and add liquid to the other portion of liquid. Once you have enough liquid toss apple pulp.

Put liquid into a clean pot, add spices and 8 cups of sugar. Sugar should be equal one cup to one cup of liquid. Boil for about 25 minutes and occasionally stirring and removing film. Test with a spoon from the freezer. You will begin to see the cooled liquid on the spoons gelling. Strain spices out.

Can liquid using a hot water bath for ten minutes. Makes abt 8 cans.

Note: Using the above recipe, I also made a batch of blueberry crab apple jelly. During the first boil of the apples I threw in a pint of frozen blueberries and did not add the cinnamon and cloves. It turned the jelly purple and according to the kids was better on a PB & J than grape jelly.

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Here is another recipe that I tried, and it turned out great as well! Martha Stewart made this while she was in prison from crab apple trees that grew on the prison property! I just happen to have a lovely Rosemary bush growing at my mailbox. If you have never planted an herb, I highly recommend Rosemary. It is a perennial and will not die out. I had one given to me once during a holiday and it sat on my window sill for months. Finally when it was looking sickly I stuck it in the ground by the mailbox and it took off. My mailbox seems to be a popular stopping point for many walkers in the neighborhood!

Martha Stewart's Crab Apple Rosemary Jelly

Ingredients:

5 cups ripe crab apples, stems and end flower removed
2 cups water
sugar to measure
sprigs of rosemary

Directions:

Cut the apples into chunks. Add water and simmer until soft.
Strain the juice through 3 layers of cheesecloth or a jelly bag.
For each cup of juice, add 3/4 cup sugar. Swirl a large sprig of rosemary through the liquid.
Bring the syrup to a boil and cook quickly to a temperature of 220 degrees.
Remove from heat, skim and pour into hot half pint jars. Seal jars by boiling for ten minutes.

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Finally, to please my husband I tried my hand at Jalapeno Jelly. It turned out extremely well and I will be making it again. My first batch won third place at my local county fair in its category. It was very inexpensive to make. I must warn you that it makes your house smell quite badly according to the kids! I would describe it as sweet and spicy but not hot.

Jalapeno Jelly

Ingredients:

3/4 lb of jalapenos, cored and seeded
2 cups apple-cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
2 pouches liquid pectin
3 drops of green food coloring (optional)

Directions:

Wearing gloves, wash, seed, and core the jalapenos. Puree them in a food processor with 1 cup of vinegar. Pour into a medium sized pot. Add the other cup of vinegar and all the sugar. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Allow to boil for 10 minutes. Add the pectin and let it rapidly boil for one minute. Remove from heat and skim the top if needed. If desired, you can add food coloring.

Ladle jelly into clean, warm canning jars leaving a 1/4″ head space. Wipe the rim of the jar and put on sterile lid. Screw on the top. Put in water bath for 10 minutes. Remove, let cool, and check for good seal.

Serve with crackers and/or cream cheese.

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