Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Canning We Will Go - Making and Remaking Jellies

So Pizza Sauce was the earlier part of the week, finally finished and canned yesterday.

And these watermelons have been sitting on the counter, mocking me. As were the jars of Dandelion Jelly that never actually jelled.  So, time to get to it.

The day actually cooperated with me, so when I finally motivated, it had gone from a hot sunny day to nice cool cloud cover. And a decent breeze running through the house - prefect canning weather. Of course, anyone who has canned before KNOWS this is very much an exception to the rule - many a hot summer day is spent in the kitchen.

Making watermelon jelly is one of the messiest things ever - the truly messy part is cutting up and pulverizing the watermelon.  Juice was everywhere.  Now, I got the recipe from Food In Jars (that link will take you right to it), but before I started, I read all the comments.   So I upped the amount of pectin to a package and a half - or 9 tablespoons.

One of the challenges facing people who can at high altitudes is that you rarely reach the temperature suggested on the recipe.  None of mine would get past 200 degrees, and 220 is what it should be at. This is where the chilled saucer trick comes in handy.

What's the chilled saucer trick?  Put a saucer or shallow small bowl in the freezer.  When you think your jelly is getting ready to be canned, put about a teaspoon full on the saucer.  Stick it in the fridge.  If it is ready, it will not run when you tilt the saucer, it will get a skin on it, and it will stay separated when cut with a knife.
Or, if you are impatient like me, chill the saucer, put the jelly on it, and let sit for a few minutes on the counter. Then tilt the saucer, if it barely moves, and has that skin on it, and you can feel it's getting jelled when you run your finger through it, can that jelly up. (Don't forget to lick your finger after this test, quality assurance testing, after all!)  However, if it runs, either method, you need to cook more of the liquid out of it.

This method is really important with fruit jellies - the amount of moisture in the fruit can vary from batch to batch.  My standard rule of thumb is bring it to a boil, keep it boiling until it reaches at least 200, and turn it down just a touch so it's still boiling but not as hard - and cook for 10 minutes. Then test.  After each test, wash off your saucer, dry it, pop it back in the freezer.

The watermelon jelly does smell a bit odd when first cooking, but as it cools it gets a good flavor.  I ended up with 18 half pints, and one not quite full.  It comes out with a deep red color.  It is the middle stack with the funky jars.

So since the weather was cooperating and everything was out - time to remake the Dandelion Jelly.  I found the recipe in this book - "Preserving Wild Foods: A Modern Forager's Recipes for Curing, Canning, Smoking, and Pickling " by Matthew Weingarten and Raquel Pelzel.   A nice neighbor let me pick all the dandelions I wanted out of his yard, I spent another hour plucking the petals and so forth - a long process jelly that never jelled.  Arg.

So I got all the jars, opened them and dumped the contents into the pan, and started processing it all over again.  I added two more cups of sugar, 6 tablespoons of lemon juice, and another 6 tablespoons of pectin.

And I cooked it, and I cooked it, and I cooked it.  About two hours of cooking, just to get it to the jell point.  The book shows it as a light golden jelly - well, because of all the cooking time, it came out darker. And a LOT less than the original batch. nine half pints, four quarter pints, and a bit extra.  They're in the far left of the picture.

So far this year, that make the spicy red pepper jelly, a test batch of pear butter, the pizza sauce, watermelon jelly, and dandelion jelly.  I was hoping to do strawberry this next week, but due to the massive hailstorm the plains had, no strawberries to pick.  I will hit the farmer's market and wholesale warehouse to see what I can come up with.

Future canning - Palisade peaches, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, strawberry jam. If I can find a non flimsy looking pressure canner, the canning realm is wide open - corn, mixed veggies, even soups.  I'd rather have home made canned soup on my shelves than the stuff prepackaged anymore, and it will make life easier on us all.

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