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."