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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tangerine Jelly & Frugal Canning Tips

The tangerine tree is practically bare and so is the fruit basket in the house. Extra tangerines went to the Food Bank and both pick-up days at my CSA. I kept the ones with torn tops for marmalade. (Tangerine skins are thin and the tops often pull off when using a long-handled fruit picker to get them off the tree.)

The problem was I didn't feel like making marmalade. I got marmaladed-out during the summer of 2007. We're still eating that marmalade, all five different kinds of it. Rob mentioned making jelly in the comments from my post earlier this week so I decided to try that instead. I found a recipe online that looked good and was encouraged by the 10 min prep promise.

That prep time was a vicious lie. Granted, I doubled the recipe so there was more labor involved, but it took far longer than 20 minutes of prep time. Perhaps the recipe author has gigantic tangerines that magically peel and chop themselves for the recipe and then drain in a few minutes. I don't. My tree produces puny little fruits. It takes a while to peel and chop them. A long while.

Nevertheless, I finally got my 12 cups of chopped tangerine pulp in the pot with the 2 cups of chopped lemon pulp, cup of thinly sliced tangerine peel, and 2 cups of water. After bringing this to a boil, I was to reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. I was tired by this point and was glad to sit down. I was not happy to hear the pot boil over a couple of minutes later. I moved it to the other burner, left the lid ajar, turned the flame as low as possible, and cleaned up the mess. I got to sit for a total of one more minute before the damn thing overboiled again. You don't want to know what I said, but at that point, I turned off the heat, put the lid on, and just let it sit without heat for a couple more minutes.

The next step was to strain it through a jelly bag. Got that, but don't have a stand. Argh. So, I lined a colander with cheesecloth and poured in the glop. Half an hour later, there were maybe four cups of juice in the bowl. It was supposed to yield 8 cups. Thinking the cheesecloth/colander was the problem, I rigged up the jelly bag to hang from my pot rack with the pulp. It yielded about 2 tablespoons of additional liquid. Great.... So much for something easier than marmalade.

By this time, it was late and I was frustrated so I put the juice in the fridge and went to bed. The only option I had this morning was to juice the remaining tangerines I'd hoped to save for my sweetie to snack on. There is one token tangerine left for him. Did that bring my juice total up to 8 cups? No. I also had to fish out the frozen orange juice concentrate tucked in the back corner of the freezer for the final cup and a half!

Heavy sigh.

I prepared my jars - 5 half-pints (per batch) - and started making the jelly in two separate batches. For each batch, I mixed four cups of the juice (a mix of strained and fresh) with 1 package of dry pectin. When this came to a boil over high heat, I dumped in 5 cups of sugar. At this point, you've really got to be paying attention because the jelly will come to a full rolling boil. This is why a mere 4 cups of juice go into a big ol' pot! The stuff needs to boil hard for 1 minute before the foam is skimmed off and the jelly is ladled into the hot jars. Ten minutes of processing in the hot water bath and it's all done.

Canning tips:
  • Don't try to cook a double batch of jelly. It may not set.

  • Measure all of your sugar out ahead of time so you can add it quickly.

  • Use a large pot, even for what seems like a small batch of jelly.

  • Get the hot sterilized jars out of the canning pot during the jelly's one minute hard boiling period. That way you can get it into the jars quickly before it starts setting up.

Besides the money you save by preserving your own garden surplus, re-using canning jars over and over, and buying sugar and pectin on sale, there are ways to cut costs while canning.

Frugal canning tips:

  • Be organized. Have your ingredients and supplies ready before starting. Jars need to be sterilized in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes before putting the food in them. Time your food preparation to finish at the same time as the sterilization period.

  • Sterilize an extra jar in case the recipe makes extra. I often end up with more than the recipe is supposed to yield so I always prepare an extra jar. In a pinch, I use a commercial jar for the excess, put it right in the fridge, and use it up quickly. (This recipe was supposed to yield 5 half-pints. The first batch made 6 half-pints, a 4 oz jar, plus a little more.)

  • Scrape every bit of food out of the pot. With jelly, this means there will be lumps in the final jar. I am less concerned with whether my jelly is clear and gorgeous than I am with avoiding food waste. One ugly, but still tasty, jar of jelly is fine with me.

  • Taking this one step further this morning, I even saved the foamy stuff I skimmed off the jelly before putting it in the jars. It tasted just fine on my breakfast toast. I also scraped the jelled jelly off the utensils and added it to my little spare jar of jelly I'd already put in the fridge.

  • Can several batches of food back to back to take advantage of the boiling canning water. It takes a fair bit of energy to get that mass of water up to a boil, so be ready with another set of jars to sterilize and fill as soon as you get the first batch out of there.

  • When done with the canning, take advantage of the hot water. Use it to wash up all the dishes. Wash the sticky floor with it. Let it sit and humidify the house with the steam. Dump it in a bucket to soak really dirty laundry. Unclog a drain by putting some baking soda and vinegar in it for a few minutes and then pour in the very hot water. Let it cool and use it to flush the toilet.

What are you going to can this week?


1 comment:

  1. LOL about the foamy stuff being used on toast. My mother used to can jellies and we always had the foamy stuff for the following week on bread/toast. : )