Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tricks of the jelly trade

First things first, why even bother making your own jelly when you can get it for $4 at the supermarket?
  1. A little bit of juice goes a long way! Fruit is relatively cheap, and a bag full of fruit could potentially yield 6 1/2 pint jars of jelly. You do the math, but that sounds like savings to me.
  2. You know exactly what is in your jelly. You don't have to worry about what kind of artificial crap could potentially be in there. Not to mention worrying about safe handling practices at the plant where it was made. Keep in mind that there is a survey indicating we pick our nose at least four times a day, how many times is that at work? In other words, you know your homemade jelly is mucous-free. :)
  3. Sharing is caring! Homemade jelly makes perfect Xmas or birthday presents. Plus its more thoughtful than a gift card or a sh!ty sweater they will never wear. Plus it's easier on your me, it will grow lips and kiss you after the holidays are over.
  4. You become a true Old Lady (or man) At Heart. It's a special club! Certain traditions are worth keeping alive.
  5. One of the most important reasons: you are truly in touch with your body when you know what you put inside of it. Everyone should view their body as a temple...or at least a McMansion, be kind to it, it's the only one you have. Why have a nice house when you fill it with cheap furniture, or shag carpet from the 70's?

First thing's first, good jelly is only accomplished with good, ripe fruit. To find good, quality fruit you must find what is in season. Picking fruit at their peak ripeness is ideal, so homegrown anything is better that whatever you can get at the store since most of that stuff is picked green and pumped full of Ethelyn gas in semi-trucks. Yummy, right? If you are clueless as to what's in season just remember if it has a really thin skin it is a summer fruit, like a peach or plum. If it has a medium skin on it,  it's a fall crop; apples and pears for example. Thick skins are most likely fall/winter/spring crops; Pomegranates & oranges. Of course there are exceptions like the watermelon, and what-not so when in doubt, ask a farmer. Where do I find a farmer you ask? Well for those who live in ag areas that's not hard, but for others who are in ag-challenged areas, try the farmers market. No farmers market? Try Wikipedia, it's a life saver.

Make sure you wash your fruit, even if you know where it came from. I use a special produce soap and use a soft bristled brush to ensure that all the crap is dislodged from my fruit. So, since it is Fall I thought this would be the perfect time to give some tips on making pomegranate jelly. Pomegranates are strange if you've never worked with them before. They have a nice thick rind and inside are little capsules full of juice which contains the seed; these capsules are called arils. I found the perfect website that shows you the best way to get the arils out of the rind. So check out POM Wonderful's site and click on the video tutorial--->  Pomegranate 101

Now let's get technical

Ok, once you have all the pretty little arils out, you will need some cheese cloth, a colander and a big bowl. Take a couple handfuls of arils and put them in two to three layers of cheesecloth. Tie up the ends of the cheese cloth so you have a what looks like a sack full of marbles. Place your bowl under your colander and squeeze the sack into the colander to extract the juice.  Just a tip, the fewer arils you put in your sack, the easier it will be to squeeze (your hands will thank you later).  The colander is there just in case a seed works it's way through your cheesecloth sack. Another tip: if you bypass the cheesecloth and just smash them in a colander, juice will squirt everywhere (I learned from experience, unfortunately). Those damn arils are explosive! Once you squeeze all the juice out that you can, dump the seeds in the trash and fill your sack with more arils. You may have to add another layer of cheesecloth, or make a new sack periodically. Once you have enough juice that your recipe calls for (see recipe for pom jelly in my last blog entry) it's time to filter your juice to get any little bits that may have accumulated on the bottom of the bowl. For this you will need a big jar with a fairly wide mouth (a pickle jar works great). Place two to three layers of cheesecloth over the opening of the jar, place a rubber band over the rim to secure your cheesecloth, then with your fingers, push cheesecloth down slightly to make a little depression (so the juice doesn't overflow before it filters). Then just pour your juice (SLOWLY!) over the cheesecloth and the pure juice will drain into the bottom and all the crud will be left behind on the cheesecloth. Ta Da!

Now just follow the recipe, and remember, USE A HUGE POT to boil your syrup in! Good luck, remember to sterilize your jars, keep your lids in a warm water bath to keep the sealing rubber soft, and pour one jar at a time, use a butter knife to remove any bubbles. Wipe each jar rim with a damp, clean towel, and don't tighten your jar ring too tight or it won't properly seal. As you finish filling each jar, place it in your water canner and once all jars are in, turn up the burner and let your jars boil for 10 minutes (unless you live in the mountains, altitudes change boiling times). Then let them cool for 24 hours on a tea towel, and you have homemade jelly that you yourself made. Trust me, you will be beaming. 
Have any tips for making pom jelly? Leave a comment! have any problems? Leave a comment! Let's help each other and grow wise together as Old Ladies (and Gentlemen) at <3.

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