Jamstory: or, the heat will be on!

So I got into preserves and canning this fall.  With so many tomatoes coming out of the garden, it was almost a necessity.  And besides the tomato stuff, including green tomato relish and tomato paste and regular ol’ stewed canned tomatoes, I got into…

JELLY.

We were helping clear out a house, and behind the house were these gorgeous ripe Concord grapes.  I filled a few grocery bags with them because I knew I wanted to try my hand at fruit-based preserves and knew that a ton of ripe grapes hanging around the kitchen would force me to actually do it.

There are several hurdles I had to jump on the way to making my first batch of jelly.  The first, of course, was sheer intimidation.  CANNING!  Scary.  Second, I had to learn how to make jelly.  I did this with the help of the info insert in the pectin package and with Google.  Third, I had to acquire or approximate a good canning setup.  Luckily we’d picked up some jar lifters at a garage sale, and the guys had found a huge aluminum stewpot while cleaning filth out of the basement and had held on to it, and we didn’t have a wide mouthed funnel but I had a ladle, and so on.

The first jelly batch was a nerve-wracking, hair-raising experience but once I got a taste of the just-jelled Concord grape flavor congealing on the spoon, I was hooked.  Next came several mint jellies, since we have a ridiculous overgrowth of mint – mint jalapeno and rosemary mint wine.  On a visit home I enlisted my sister’s help to make muscadine hull jelly.

Sister J helps out

Muscadine grapes have very tough skins, which can be incorporated into the jelly for color and flavor (and nutritional benefit?) and can be boiled down into a delicious pie filling in the southern Appalachian tradition.  I affectionately termed it “desperation food,” but with a flaky lard crust it was a taste of a different time and place – and absolutely delicious.

A friend’s mom sent over some of her homegrown japalenos, so for Christmas this year I gave out tiny jars of red and green pepper jelly.

All this is to say that I like making jelly and jam and plan to make a lot more – I can’t consider myself an experienced jelly maker yet, especially once I looked through some of the jam and preserves books I got for Christmas this year.  There are so many recipes and techniques that I can’t wait to experiment with once I get my hands on some fresh produce…

Along with the books, I received a large copper jam pot and straining cloths (and a bread dough stirrer – not for jelly, but whatever).  These were all in my checked baggage and probably confused the TSA, although they probably weren’t as confused as they are every time someone sends bagpipes through the security scanner.

Long story.

Living here, I’ve developed an inconvenient and almost militant insistence on becoming capable of making stuff I eat/use.  For example, someone recently asked me if I make jewelry.  I instantly was filled with the deepest shame because I wear jewelry all the time but don’t make any of it myself.  And almost as instantly, I realized I was being ridiculous.  That doesn’t change the fact that I am very very excited about making the preserves that I eat instead of buying them.  Like sourdough breadmaking, the process is initially pretty daunting (for me, if no one else) but so much easier and more rewarding than I’d assumed.  And then having a cupboard of glowing, colorful jars of jelly ready to spread on a David Eyre’s Pancake at a moment’s notice… so worth it.

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