Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Fruitful Day

According to local lore, in the very early 1900s a large package of what looked like raspberry canes arrived at the post office.  No one claimed it and rather than letting it go to waste, the postmaster hiked around the county, planting canes hither, thither and yon.  Now, as July 4th approaches, wineberries ripen.  After the first husks pop open, we have a 2- or 3-week window to harvest them.  The wineberry is a non-native invasive, one person's flower and another's weed.  I claim it as a flower.

Today I awoke with a plan.  After rounding my garden to gather cucumbers and green beans, and after milking, I would hike up "our" mountain to see if "my" wineberry patches were close to ready.  Probably too early, I thought, but maybe I could guess how much longer, and besides, I didn't want to miss out.
Aha!  I lucked into the first picking of the season.  Any earlier would have been too early.
With more than a gallon in my backpack (in plastic containers), I headed straight to our basement kitchen, where we "put food by."  I heated 16 cups of berries, put them in a jelly bag, and hung the bag over a pot.  While the juice dripped, I stir-fried green beans and broccoli in olive oil and bagged them up for the freezer.
"May I taste the berry juice?" says Virginia.

Go ahead.
First, I made jelly strictly according to the recipe in a box of Sure-Jell, using 4 1/2 cups of juice.  Mix the pectin (Sure-Jell) with a quarter cup of the 3 cups of sugar and add it to the juice, then bring the juice to a rolling boil (the kind that can't be stirred down).  Add the rest of the sugar and bring to a rolling boil again.  Boil for 1 minute.  Pour into jars.

Then I had 7 3/4 cups left, too much for 1 batch, too little for 2.  Time to do what I usually do -- wing it, without store-bought pectin. 

Here's my standard recipe:  Measure juice into the pot (in this case 7 3/4 C.).  Bring to a rolling boil.  Add the same amount of sugar.  Bring to another rolling boil, then stick a thermometer in the juice and take it on up to 220 degrees F. (8 degrees F. above boiling).  When it hits 220, keep it there for 9 minutes.  Pour into jars and seal.

That's what I did, except for one thing.  Remembering the Sure-Jell instructions -- measure and follow these directions exactly -- I had a thought.  Another old package of the stuff waited in our cabinet.  Might as well experiment.  I tossed it into the juice, before the first boil.  I had picked a combination of very ripe red berries and some not so ripe, because, from what I've read, the not-so-ripe fellows have more natural pectin in them.  So I figured I didn't need to add any pectin.  But since I had some, I dropped in a little box, enough for less than half the recipe I was making.  Otherwise, I followed my standard recipe.

I figured if it failed, we'd at least have runny raspberry syrup, which tastes mighty fine on pancakes and waffles.  It turned out great, maybe not quite as stiff as the Sure-Jell batch, but that's okay, I prefer jelly that gives.
 First Boil
Second Boil
In the Can

See the white 1/2 cup measure?  It holds the froth I skimmed off before pouring the jelly into the jars, a special treat.  The white cup and the jar without a lid hold the extra jelly from each batch.  I can compare them for thickness and taste. 

"And where was your wife during this exercise?" says Macho Man.

"She was hunting around town for a new faucet to replace the one in our canning kitchen, which has a couple holes that spray its user and several leaky connections.  If she hadn't had to order one -- sometimes it's hard to find appropriate fixtures for a mid-18th century house -- she probably would have installed it while I 'put food by.'  Thank you, sir!"

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