Jam and Jelly on the Wild Side

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Winter goodies for toast, sauces and jam cake!

Winter goodies for toast, sauces and jam cake!

Late summer is preserving season — jams, jellies, conserves, chutney, fruit syrups — any fruit or liquid that is standing still or even moving slowly is likely to wind up in a jar. You can be conventional and make peach or blackberry jam, move a little sideways into rose-petal jelly or get really out there with bacon jelly. The later holds no appeal for me, as I like my bacon next to my eggs. But there are a few traditional or unusual recipes that not only jazz up your own table, they make unique and tasty host/hostess and Christmas gifts. I’ve previously shared a recipe for carrot jam, but here are a few others. Remember, you don’t need to water bath or pressure can jams and jellies, no matter what the experts say. I’ll add a caveat to that: I’m not so sure about bacon jelly. Meats are low acid foods and usually require pressure canning. I suspect that since bacon is already preserved and there’s plenty of sugar in the recipe to hold down bacterial growth, you could get away with not pressure canning, but I’m not recommending it. Do your own research on this one. As always, be meticulous about washing and boiling your jars and follow instructions carefully. If you’ve never done any canning, the pectin box has basic instructions inside.

Zucchini and Lemon Jam
2 ¼ pounds zucchini, topped and tailed, and cut into small dice (actually, you could use any summer squash)
2 ¼ pounds granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbs finely shredded lemon verbena leaves (optional)

Put the zucchini into a preserving pan with the sugar and lemon zest. Stir and leave overnight to macerate. Pour in 1 cup water and warm over medium heat, stirring until any remaining sugar crystals have dissolved. Pour in the lemon juice, stir and bring to the boil. Boil until the setting point is reached, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in lemon verbena if using and cool for 10 minutes, then pour into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, wipe rims and seal.

Hard Apple Cider Jelly
4 1/2 cups hard apple cider
strained juice of 1 lemon
3 cups sugar
1 package Sure-Jell Low-Sugar pectin

Sterilize your jars and prepare your lids. Measure the hard cider into a 6- or 8-quart nonreactive saucepan. Add the lemon juice. Measure the sugar into a separate bowl. Thoroughly mix 1/4 cup of the measured sugar with the pectin in another small bowl. Make sure this pectin-sugar mixture stays nice and dry. Set aside. Bring the cider and lemon juice to a boil over high heat, then stir in the pectin-sugar mixture. Bring the resulting mixture back to a hard rolling boil — that is, a boil that doesn’t settle down when you stir it. During this phase, stir constantly and use the back of your spoon to smash up and disperse the pectin lumps that form when you add the pectin mix to the cider. Quickly stir in the remaining sugar and bring the mixture back to a hard boil. Boil for exactly 1 minute. Again, stir constantly and use your spoon to break up any remaining pectin lumps. Remove from heat and skim any foam. The pectin should be well dissolved by now, but if you see any small lumps, you can quickly pour the very hot jelly through a strainer. Ladle or pour the jelly into your sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe the jar rims with a clean, damp cloth if necessary and secure your two-piece lids.

Red Onion Jam
1 tablespoon oil (I prefer coconut oil)
3 large red onions, sliced thin
1/3 cup sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put the oil, onions, sugar, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and salt in a sauté pan, making sure the bay leaf and cinnamon are tucked under the onions, and cover with a lid. Place the pan over medium low heat and cook covered until the onions are very soft (20-30 minutes). Remove the lid and turn up the heat to medium-high. Reduce the jam, stirring constantly until you have a thick glossy jam. This one goes in the fridge and should be eaten within a week or so.

Tomato Jelly
1 3/4 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
4 cups sugar
1 pouch (3 oz.) liquid fruit pectin

Combine all ingredients except pectin. Stir over high heat until mixture reaches a full boil. Stir in pectin and bring again to a full boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir and skim for about 3 minutes. Pour into sterile jars, leaving 1/8″ headspace. Wipe jar rims, adjust lids and rings.

Beet Jelly

Thoroughly wash 4-5 red beets. Cover with water and boil till tender (20-30 minutes). Strain juice. Slip skins from beets and use as buttered or Harvard beets.
4 cups beet juice
1 cup lemon juice (may use bottled)
7 cups sugar
1 pkg. powdered pectin

Combine all ingredients except pectin. Stir over high heat until mixture reaches a full boil. Stir in pectin and bring again to a full boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir and skim for about 3 minutes. Pour into sterile jars, leaving 1/8″ headspace. Wipe jar rims, adjust lids and rings. This one gives you double duty from the beets.

Corn Cob Jelly

Cover 6-12 fresh or clean dry corn cobs with water and boil 15 minutes. Strain juice through cloth bag.
3 cups juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 pkg. powdered pectin

Combine all ingredients except pectin. Stir over high heat until mixture reaches a full boil. Stir in pectin and bring again to a full boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. You can tint it with food coloring at this point if you want to. Stir and skim for about 3 minutes. Pour into sterile jars, leaving 1/8″ headspace. Wipe jar rims, adjust lids and rings.

Wine Jelly

3 cups sugar
2 cups wine, any kind
1 pouch liquid pectin

Mix wine and sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid has just started to boil (you don’t want to boil the alcohol away). Stir in the liquid pectin until thoroughly dissolved. Pour into prepared jars, wipe rims and seal. I don’t drink wine, but I use a bit in cooking (and then have leftovers), people often bring some to a party or give me some as a present. This is a great way to use it.

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An Apple a Day

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Although cider apples can make a difference, you can use a mix of any kind of apples.

Although cider apples can make a difference, you can use a mix of any kind of apples.

This time of the year a woman’s fancy turns (at least mine does) to apples. The summer apple crop is in high gear, and the fall apple crop is ripening. Apples are one the the most productive fruits I know of (well, maybe blackberries produce more, but they take a lot more time to pick and that have those dad-blasted thorns). Apples are also high on the versatility list: eat ‘em fresh, juice, cider, hard cider, vinegar, applesauce, apple butter, dried apples, apple pie filling, apple fritters, baked apples, apple turnovers and the list goes on. I’m in the middle of turning a bushel of apples into sauce, but I still have at least three more bushels to deal with. One of the easiest things to do with apples is to turn them first into juice, then into cider, then into hard cider and finally into vinegar. The nice thing about it is that once you do the juice part, the rest just happens naturally:

1. Juice the apples (someday when I have extra money I’m going to get one of those stainless steel cold-grind juicers — they don’t heat the juice, so it tastes better).

Ell uses a steamer/juice. I borrow my daughter's Jack La Lanne juicer.

Ell uses a steamer/juicer. I borrow my daughter’s Jack La Lanne juicer.

2. Refrigerate the juice for a few days and drink some of it.

3. Put some juice on the kitchen counter in a glass jar. Don’t fill the jar more than 3/4 full, as the fermenting juice may bubble out and make a mess. Cover the jar opening with a couple of thicknesses of cheesecloth. Let the jar sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for a few days. Start tasting at two days. Somewhere between day two and day five, you’ll have a light, fizzy drink that has a faint alcoholic tang. Taste several times a day until it’s where you want it to be, then refrigerate. It should keep for about a month.

The coppery-colored jars are hard cider fermenting into apple cider vinegar.

The coppery-colored jars are hard cider fermenting into apple cider vinegar.

4. If you want vinegar, leave it on the counter for three or four weeks. If you have some unpasteurized vinegar around, you can hurry this step up a bit by adding a tablespoon or so of vinegar to the juice. Strain it through a coffee filter or several thickness of cheesecloth and pour into a mason jar. Then put a regular lid and ring on and store it in a cool dark place for several months. This vinegar is great for  ginger water and similar drinks, salad dressings and fermenting things, but don’t use it for canning as you can’t be sure of the acidity level.

The other thing I really like about this is that the apples do almost all the work…

 

 

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Herbal Medicine: Blackberry Syrup

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First, you pick the berries...

First, you pick the berries…

OK, let’s start with a warning and a disclaimer: herbal medicines are not something you just jump into without educating yourself. There are plenty of herbals that have side effects, just like conventional medicines. There are some herbal preparations that can kill you quite quickly – aconite springs to mind. The other issue is knowing what you’re treating; as a registered nurse I’m a pretty fair diagnostician after forty-plus years in the business. If you want to get into herbals, find some good books or online sources and spend some time with them. If you can find a knowledgeable practicing herbalist who will teach you the basics, even better. With that said, I do use herbs in a number of ways.

An old-fashioned food mill.

An old-fashioned food mill.

This is the time of the year to start thinking about flu season. I don’t say that to encourage flu shots, but to encourage immune-boosting elderberry or blackberry syrups. Both are traditional winter remedies to help prevent flu and colds and to help you get over the viruses more quickly. Commercial elderberry syrups are available, but I like to make my own. I haven’t run across a commercial version of the blackberry syrup. Luckily both grow on the ranch, although I have a LOT more blackberries than elderberries.

Elderberry has been more thoroughly studied, but both show antiviral effects. Elderberry has been shown to be effective against some strains of the flu, while blackberries were effective against herpes virus, which causes cold sores. Elder flower and elderberries may also reduce the swelling in mucous membranes and have anti-inflammatory effects. You want Sambucus nigra, or black elderberry; don’t use dwarf elder, which can be toxic. If you aren’t sure what you’ve got, find an expert to help you. Blackberries are pretty easy to identify.

Use organic spices if possible; conventional spices have usually been irradiated.

Use organic spices if possible; conventional spices have usually been irradiated.

As for the other ingredients, ginger helps sore throats. Cinnamon is anti-inflammatory and can combat bacteria and fungi. Cloves are another anti-inflammatory. Honey helps suppress coughs and has antibacterial properties. Traditional recipes vary, but most include fruit, honey, spices, water and sometimes alcohol or vinegar. The alcohol and vinegar are used primarily as preservatives and aren’t really necessary. Exact quantities are not as important as the overall proportions. If you have an extra cup of berries, toss ‘em in.

Straining the syrup.

Straining the syrup; honey on the side.

Syrup that has been boiled down, pulped and strained.

Syrup that has been boiled down, pulped and strained.

You won’t need as many elderberries as you will blackberries, but you’ll use proportionally more water to extract the good stuff from the elderberries. The usual dose as an immune booster is ½ to 1 tsp for kids (smaller dose for smaller kids). For adults, it’s ½ to 1 Tbs. Some sources say you shouldn’t take immune boosters every day. I’ve seen recommendations to take these syrups five days a week and then stop for the weekend, or to take it for two weeks and stop for a week. I’m of the opinion that you should use it as a preventative for situations where you know ahead of time you’re going to be exposed to flu bugs. For example, start the kids on it a week before school and keep them on for a couple of weeks. By then they should have adjusted to all the new bugs in the school environment. If you know you’re going to be flying somewhere, follow the same instructions — planes are notorious for harboring respiratory bugs. If you actually come down with something, take the daily dose two or three times a day until the symptoms are resolved.

Stir in the spices and simmer a bit more.

Stir in the spices and simmer a bit more.

Elderberry Syrup
About one cup black elderberries
3 to 3/12 cups water (some people replace one cup of water with one cup of vinegar)
1 ½ Tbs fresh or dried ginger root (if fresh, peel and cut into matchstick strips)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp clove powder or 1 tsp whole cloves
1 cup raw honey

Wash elderberries and remove any debris such as leaves. Bring all ingredients except honey to a boil; cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. The liquid should reduce by about half. Remove from heat, strain into a glass bowl and let the liquid cool to lukewarm. Add honey, stir well and pour into glass bottles or jars. Store in the fridge.

Blackberry Syrup
8 quarts blackberries (this makes a lot of syrup, so adjust quantities downward as desired
2 quarts water
1 Tbs each whole allspice and whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
Honey (the original recipe called for 4 quarts of sugar, but sugar adds nothing to this remedy and also depresses the infection-fighting T-cells in your immune system – seems counterproductive in an immune-boosting recipe)

Pick over and wash berries. Put berries and water in a big saucepan; bring to boil. Simmer until the fruit is very soft, about one hour. Strain into a glass or stainless steel bowl, then put the pulp through a food mill. Discard pulp and seeds. Return juice to saucepan, add spices and simmer another 20 minutes. Strain out spices, let cool to lukewarm and stir in honey until dissolved. If you make the full recipe, it will take about one quart of honey. If desired, you can add one pint vodka, whiskey or brandy per quart of syrup. Screw lids tight and keep in a cool dark place.

Final product.

Final product.

Not only is it pretty, it smells and tastes wonderful.

Not only is it pretty, it smells and tastes wonderful.

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