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Jelly season

By on July 23, 2018 in Archives with 1 Comment

The last batch: With a bow on top, they’re ready to go into Christmas stockings.

By Susan Sampson

Some of us are so old-fashioned that we look forward to late summer as food-preserving season.

We remember sitting on the porch with Mom, snipping the tips of green beans from a 50-pound gunnysack full, to prepare them for canning, or peeling, coring and slicing a 23-pound boxful of apples, preferably Gravensteins, to make applesauce.

Mom processed jars of beans in the pressure cooker and simmered the jars of applesauce in a water bath in the huge enamel canner on the stove top. After the cooking, we lined the jars on the kitchen counter and listened for the “ping!” of the jars sealing. When they were cold, we tapped the jars with a spoon to check again for a good seal.

It’s much easier and more convenient for our small household of two to buy our green beans and applesauce at the supermarket, but I can’t let go of the old traditions entirely.

Instead, I make jelly from the juice of loganberries that I grow in a small patch in our back yard.

Susan Sampson says a loud apron (from the Pybus market) disguises a multitude of splatters.

I assure my non-canning friends that making jelly is no more difficult that mixing up a batch of Kool-Aid or Crystal Lite, but actually, it does help to have the right tools and to know a little bit of technique.

I have a large kettle fitted with a jar rack, a tool for grabbing hot jars, and a wide-mouthed funnel for steering jelly into jelly glasses. I chase everybody out of the kitchen while I deal with the scalding liquids.

However, I haven’t mastered all the canning techniques. I have never made a good batch of dill-pickled green beans despite using the same recipe I’ve bummed from friends, the same recipe from three different sources.

This year I had the romantic notion that I’d make apricot preserves — not jam from mashed fruit, or jelly from clear liquids (an old song says “It must be jelly ’cause jam don’t shake like that.”)

I wanted golden morsels of fruit simmered in sugar until the fruit was translucent. At least that’s what the old edition of The Joy of Cooking offered.

I was supposed to dunk slightly under-ripe fruit in hot water to help the skins slide off. It didn’t work. Either the fruit was so green that I had to pare the skin off, or so ripe that it turned to mush in my fingers.

I gave up on preserves, and canned three pints of apricot syrup. It is delicious.

My jelly turns out reliably. The jars full glow like deep red gems. The product tastes better than any I can buy. I count out jars for my siblings, my sons and my grandsons.

This is my Christmas shopping, and it’s done by August.

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  1. will skubi says:

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    It took me several years before I understood the mysteries of getting my blackberry jam to jell up properly. In the end the main trick had been right in the instructions all the time —-making small batches. I generally make a batch using a quart of blackberries at a time. I don’t know why that is the key to having the jam or jelly jell, but that seems to work for me.

    And instead of boiling off the excess water to get to the jelling point, I keep adding sugar until I get to the necessary temperature as measured on my candy thermometer.

    A main motivation for me is that I despise waste, and having thousands of tons of blackberry fruit rot in every vacant lot and along many streets reliably gets me out picking berries each year.

    Seattle’s wild Himalayan blackberries are a nuisance eleven months out of the year, choking lots and streets with vines that grow out to grab passersby. By in August, when the berries ripen up, they are a treasure.

    I find that the trick to picking blackberries is to use loppers to trim off the guard vines that don’t produce fruit, but which grow over the front of fruiting vines and offer to stick pickers especially aggressively. By cutting away those guard vines, the fruit can be picked in relative safety.

    Another milestone in canning blackberries was discovering how to deal with the seeds, which are too abundant to be altogether pleasant. The simple way is to use a hand crank food mill, which does an excellent job of crushing the fruit and removing the seeds.

    The other way is to make jelly. My jelly making involves a pillowcase that has been sacrificed to this task. I crush the fruit and load it in the pillow case, then hang the pillow case over a five gallon bucket and leave it overnight to allow the juice to drip out.

    The next day, the juice is ready to make jelly or blackberry syrup. Light shining through jars of blackberry jelly are a form of artistic creativity, for me, at least.

    Usually blackberries don’t ripen up until the first week of August. But with all our sunny weather and heat, they are ripe now. As I go on my daily walks around town, instead of shying away from the blackberry vines trying to grab on to me, I linger and sample the fruit, warm in the sun.

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