Adventures in Jelly making

You know grape jelly? That essential ingredient of childhood sandwiches and also the flavor of childhood medicine?  It has a very distinctive flavor that until recently I referred to as “fake grape” or “purple flavored”.  Despite purple being my favorite color, I hated that too strong taste.  And the actual grapes I had encountered in real life never tasted like that.  That’s probably true for a lot of people I think.  So imagine my surprise when I got grapes in my CSA basket.

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Aside from the fact that grapes aren’t commonly grown in Oklahoma, these were fragrant.  They filled up the kitchen with their scent once I got them home.  And you know what they smelled like?  Grape jelly!  Seriously!  I had true concord grapes sitting in my kitchen.

The first batch I took to a friend’s house to eat as a snack.  And they tasted all right, but they had these annoying little seeds in them.  Now I understand why they are typically made into jelly.

These were my first attempt at jelly making.  I normally prefer jams because you don’t have to worry about pectin and such generally.  I followed the recipe for Concord Grape Jelly with Green Apples from Canning for a New Generation.  The photos here are from my second, much smaller attempt.  The first attempt, I might have overcooked the jelly.  I won’t be sure until I open the jars.  This second batch I did not can; it went straight into the fridge when it was done.

Definitely put on your aprons for this one, and I wore gloves while cleaning and squeezing the grapes.

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One of the neat things about this recipe is that it uses green apples to boost the pectin content for the jelly.  I love this, because it feels more natural to me than buying a packet of instant pectin.  However, I have so little experience with jellies, that I’m not sure how it’s supposed to behave.  Jams seem a lot more straightforward by comparison.

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We tried this on toast the following weekend.  I might have also overcooked this one? The texture is strange compared to store-bought jellies.  It’s very spreadable and soft, and Andrew and I prefer it to the clumpy nature you usually see.

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Left: store bought cherry “spread” Right: homemade grape jelly

If anyone has experience making jellies, I’d love to know. I tried googling, but it seemed that for most people overcooked jelly went to hard candy mode and I didn’t see a lot of photos of the finished product being used.

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Canning Broth: Easier than previously thought

6832048268_3c29ea55c4_oSo, back near Thanksgiving, I made some turkey broth.  At the time, I measured it out, put it in freezer bags, and froze it.  This has been the way that I’ve done my broth for a while now.  However, I can never get the bags to freeze flat and therefore they take up a lot of space in my freezer.  (What I would give for the space to have a chest freezer!)  A friend came into a pile of beef (her dad had bought half a cow) and she wanted to share.  So we needed to make room in the freezer.

Last summer, when we canned the cherries, I bought a bunch of jars and a pressure canner.  Now, a brief primer on canning.  Most canning can be done in a boiling water bath, with pots you already own, as long as they cover the top of the jars.  This is for things like jams, jellies, and tomatoes.  These foods have enough sugar or acid (or both) that they can be canned with boiling water.  Other foods, such as soups or pasta sauces, don’t have these properties, and so need a much higher heat in order to be safe.  This higher heat can only be acquired at home with a pressure canner.  For more specific info, I recommend checking out a basic canning book, like The Ball Blue Book.  This was the book that I started with.

Ever since I learned about home canning, I’ve dreamt about canning my own soups.  The idea of pulling a jar off the shelf and dumping it in a pot, easy as store-bought soup, but so much healthier!  I’ve since learned that dream is a little unrealistic; most soups can’t be canned in their finished form with everything already mixed together.  But broth can be, and that’s about halfway there.

I’m pleased to say that this experiment was successful.  You basically wash the jars, heat the broth, fill the jars, seal, put in the canner and process for as long as the directions say.  Much more straightforward than making jam or preserves.  In fact, I’m going to make some ham broth later this week and can that too!  I’m also looking forward to canning my grandma’s chicken soup (which is basically carrots, onions, celery and chicken broth).