Monday, September 19, 2016

Bella's Jelly

About eleven years ago our granddaughter was born and I planted a tree to celebrate the occasion. First I gathered a seed from inside an overripe apple beneath our oldest apple tree. I had done the same thing almost two years prior when our grandson was born and his tree was growing successfully, out in the yard. Then I planted the seed in a small pot until it was big enough to transplant in the yard at which time Bob drove a steel post beside it so we wouldn't accidentally mow it down. I think we protected it with horse wire for the first few years too, so the rabbits and deer wouldn't munch on it. 
Last year we got a few blossoms and fruit but it was this year, 2016, that the tree really came into its own with a bumper crop of pretty little yellow apples with a pink blush. I've since learned that growing an apple tree from a seed rarely produces good tasting fruit. That kind of experimentation is best left to the professionals, and sure enough, these little apples are bland and not very sweet, but they are very pretty. They hang in clusters like cherries and resemble the Queen Anne variety, but not as red. 

We decided to make jelly with them this weekend. Bella and I picked a big bag of apples and added a few Jonathans from a nearby tree, thinking we might need some of their juiciness. The plan was for us to make the jelly together but other projects intervened so that on Sunday while watching football I sorted, cored, and otherwise prepared the apples for jelly making while Bella attended a birthday party up in the mountains.Bella, I told you I would explain how I made the jelly so this is for you. 
I placed the washed and chopped apples in a pan with water to cover them and cooked them about fifteen minutes, adding about 1/3 cup Brach's Cinnamon Imperial candies, or red hots, as we know them.

That's a tip from my mother-in-law who taught me the candies add a little spice and color to an otherwise bland juice.  When the fruit was soft I gently pressed it against the side of the pan with a big spoon to release the juice, then poured it all into a bowl lined with a single layer of cheesecloth. 

Holding the cheescloth-filled bag above the bowl, and gently pushing against the sides of the bag to get the juice out, I soon had almost six cups of apple juice for jelly making. It's tempting to really squeeze the bag to get more juice but that extra apple pulp makes the jelly cloudy. Using my favorite apple jelly recipe I added the sugar and fruit pectin to the juice and brought it to a boil in a pan on the stove. Oh, I forgot to say that in another pan I was sterilizing the jelly jars and lids so that when the jelly was ready the jars would be very hot and clean.

After the jelly boiled for a full minute, just the like recipe says, I ladled the juice into the hot jars and put the lids on. The next step was more difficult than it should have been for I had forgotten that somewhere in storage I have a deep pan with a rack in it that is perfect for the last step in jelly making so I had to make do with the same pan I sterilized the jars in. Putting a rack in the bottom of the pan to keep the glass jars off the too-hot bottom I was able to place 5 jars full of jelly into the pan and boil them for five minutes, making sure the water covered the jars. Boy, was that tricky! I had water boiling over onto the stovetop the entire five minutes because my pan was barely deep enough! If we make another batch of jelly we'll definitely use the right equipment.

When the jars are removed from the hot water bath and placed on the countertop the sound of success comes with the popping noise from the lids as they suck down in the middle, insuring a good seal. I was happy with the looks of the jelly and the fact I got eleven jars, more than I expected. However, hours later, after the jelly was totally cooled, I could see that instead of eleven jars of jelly I had eleven jars of syrup! Dang. This has happened to me before. I surely do wish I had my mother-in-law here to tell me her trick of testing the jelly to see if it is going to set up before going to all the trouble of filling the jars and giving them their final hot bath. 

Google told me what to do and I almost started on it yesterday but then realized I needed new lids! The old lids can not be reused for once the seal is broken it can't be relied on again, unlike the big, red rubber seals our grandmothers used back "in the olden days." So this morning I removed the apple syrup from the jars, put it back into a clean pan, added the mixture of sugar, water, lemon juice, and pectin recommended, and boiled it again. Bob took the temperature of the boiling mixture and found it to be only 175 degrees so we think the jelly failure might be blamed on our high altitude which causes liquids to boil at a much lower temperature than at sea level. Of course, I had to wash and re-sterilize the jars, and the new lids before filling them with the jelly. I could tell right away that this jelly is much thicker than the original batch. I gave them their 5-minute bath again and added a few minutes to adjust for the altitude. Tonight I'll open a jar and sample it, hoping to find just the right jelly consistency and not a pink rubber ball!! That has happened to me too, jelly so firm I couldn't get my spoon into it. There is an old saying that fits this situation, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Family Reunion

My family on my mom’s side just had a family reunion today, June 4, 2016, the first in Southern Indiana, I believe. Most years they were held in Southern Illinois in July because my mother’s parents lived there, and July was sure to be hot and dry. At least I think those are the reasons. The one today I didn’t attend and tonight I’m missing my cousins so. Colorado seems so far away.

I’m almost 70 years old now and have been attending family reunions with these relatives (and so many who have died) all my life. I don’t remember any bad times, no arguments, certainly no fist fights or gun battles. My memories are filled with good times, laughter, and fun with cousins. I could write a book about those reunions but instead I’d like to make a list of abstract memories, snips of images etched on my mind like those captured in the flashbulbs of old-time cameras.

The squeak of the porch swing
Lighting bugs in the yard
Grandma’s chuckles amid the soft southern voices of each of her kids

Sleeping on pallets in the living room
Cousins piled up on the feather beds
Pillows damp with perspiration and mattresses that smelled of pee
The grape vine outside the bedroom window

The chiffrobe, chamber pot, and quilts in the bedroom
Grandpa calling out "Verlie, Verlie", and her quiet answer, “Oh, Wil.”
Grandma with her snuff, rose water glycerin, her only cologne
Grandpa in his white socks, black coal dust stains on his ears

The distinctive odor of lime in the outhouse
Cucumbers planted on hills
Mulberries staining the ground
The smoke house that no longer smoked hams

Piles of scrap metal by the garage
Coffee grounds saved and spaded for fishing worms
Green apples in the trees beside the house
Mustard worms on the sidewalk

Iced tea and lemonade, made with real lemons
Dew berries growing low along the road
Blackberries and chiggers seemed to go hand in hand
Lois’s store for candy and orangesicles

Cousins arriving by car to squeals of excitement
Grandpa sitting in those cars turning the knobs, playing the radios
So many cooks in the kitchen, adding beans to the pot

Uncle Todge came in the door as a one-man carnival
Talking like Donald Duck
Giving out candy from his pocket
Making us laugh and loving his antics.

Aunt Betty and her stories, oh, she could tell good stories
Never cut her hair and always wore dresses with sleeves
But first to jump into Harco Lake
And splash and chase and act like a kid

Uncle Jay took a personal interest in every one of us
Remembered the old times, the names and dates
Never talked of his hardships, his time in the Army
Loved us unconditionally and we felt the same about him

Aunt Tootsie is what we called her
And I don’t know why
She was the take-charge sister who got things done
Kept an eye on us kids and we knew she saw everything

Aunt Barbara didn’t make it down home as often as the others
She had four kids and Uncle Jim in Indiana
So when they did arrive we celebrated big
Took those kids around and showed them everything

Aunt Lou was a little on the fringes
Liked her cigarettes and drink
But loved her family, every one
Had a sad little smile that spoke of a sad, sad life

I saved my mom for last, Mil, to all her family
She reverted to a little girl when she came down home,
Giggled and laughed, called me Betty instead of Pam
The only time she was truly happy was when she went down home.

I love you all, my cousins, I hope you know that
We share lots of memories and good genes too
Most of us are healthy and have families of our own
May our love for one another and our reunions continue forever...