I've posted before about the strawberry freezer jam I started making last year, but before now, I've never made any other jam or jelly and have never tried processing it. This year I decided to branch out - or, as at least a few of my readers will appreciate, be a 'risk taker'.
The first thing I tried was peach jam. It's not a true jam, but more like a peach version of my strawberry freezer jam. I just peeled and cut up peaches and cooked them down to a consistency that pleased me. Like my strawberry jam, I added a little sugar to taste - about a tablespoon for what amounted to a pint of jam. I did not process it, so like the strawberry, it's being stored in the freezer.
It looks, smells and tastes wonderful. When I open the jar it's like smelling a fresh peach pie, and the sweetness compliments, rather than over powers, the peach flavor.
For my first attempt at proper processing I decided to try using crab apples. We have two crab apple trees and though one of them didn't fruit this year, the other one is making up for it with masses of pink and yellow fruit. Since we wouldn't be using them for anything else I rationalized that if I failed it really wouldn't have been much of a loss, and at the very least there would be fewer of them to pick up off the grass. On the other hand, If I succeeded we'd have something useful from fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste.
Although they'd been raining down with every breeze for a couple of weeks, I still had no trouble picking a couple of pounds.
I followed a recipe from the local newspaper, but reduced the sugar to half what was recommended:
Crab apple Jelly
2 pounds, crab apples, washed, stems and blossom ends removed
2 cups sugar
Place the crab apples in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover the crab apples, but not so much that they float. Cook the crab apples, uncovered, until the fruit is soft, about 10-15 minutes.
Strain the fruit and juice through a jelly bag (or if, like me, you don't have a jelly bag, through a cheesecloth or a colander lined with coffee filters).There should about 4 cups of juice. At this point you can choose to continue the process or cool and refrigerate the juice for another day.
Pour the juice into a large pan (I had to change pans midway since the first one I chose wasn't large enough. I had no idea it was going to bubble so much)
The recipe I had said to add the sugar to the juice and heat to 220 degrees, or until the foam darkens in color and loses it's volume. I followed these instructions, testing by a method I'd read somewhere long ago. I placed a saucer in the freezer, and every so often I'd drop a spoonful onto the cold plate and see how the jelly set up.
When it reached 220 I ladled it into a sterilized jar, and set it in boiling water for 10 minutes (I had to double the time for my altitude). It's handy if you have jar tongs, I don't so I ended up using the barbecue tongs.
The recipe said I should have 4 jars, but I only ended up with one. One jar of very thick, dark jelly.
It's sweet and apple-y, but with a hint of puckeriness (Okay, maybe I'm making up words) that regular apple jelly doesn't have. Clive says it tastes like some sweet from childhood he can't place. The consistency though is less like jelly, and more like the jam in the center of a Jammie Dodger. I think I needed to cook it faster, and possibly even put the sugar in later. I'd welcome input from experienced jelly makers.
Next I tried grape jelly. We've had our grapevine about three years now, and this year we had about 25 pounds of grapes. Twenty pounds of them are fermenting away in a bucket in my kitchen, but with the other five pounds, I made jelly.
The process I used was similar to the first, but using:
5 pounds grapes
3 tablespoons pectin
4 cups sugar (the original recipe called for 7 cups)
I washed the grapes and picked them off their stems. I placed them in a large pan with enough water to cover them, but not so much that they floated. I boiled them 10-15 minutes, until they were well broken up. After this mixture cooled a bit, I used first a potato masher - and then my hands - to crush the grapes. I poured this through a strainer and set the juice aside for later processing.
The next day I measured five cups of juice into a pan with three tablespoons low/no sugar pectin. And, using a higher heat than I did for the crab apple jelly, I brought it to a boil, testing as before by spooning small amounts onto a cold plate. I added the sugar and boiled for another minute before ladling it into jars and processing, using the instructions on the pectin package. This time I had enough for six jars, and I've still got juice left over for another time - or for a batch of finger gelatin.