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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Juicing Berries and Making Jelly

I'll be playing blog catch-up as I can get to it--a few more crazy busy weeks ahead, but lots to share, so hang in there--I'll put up posts when I can catch a few minutes! We'll start with a project from a couple of weeks ago--Mulberry/Currant Jelly. Yummy. If you've only had jam and jelly from the store, you're missing out! Jams and jellies are pretty easy to make and holy cow they're way better than most of the store stuff. You'd be surprised how little fruit it takes to make a batch of jam, so go ahead and give it a try next time you get a sack of fruit you don't know what to do with.

I had some currants from our baby currant bushes, but it was not enough for a batch of jelly until I got some mulberries from a friend. Then it was jelly time. Now, usually I make jam because it seems like less waste, but currants are SOOO much seed and skin compared to the juicy part of the berry that I thought I'd better jelly them instead.

To make jelly, you first need juice. To get the juice from a soft fruit like berries, apricots, plums, etc, first wash your fruit:
After the fruit is washed, smash it up. You could use a hand potato masher (silly, I don't have one). I used my kitchenaid on low:
Measure the mashed fruit and put it in a pot.
Repeat with any other fruit you're going to juice for the same jelly--here's the mulberries. I left the little stems on them since I knew I was jellying and they'd get strained out of the final product. If I were making jam, I'd have to pull all those little stems off (they don't like to come off without mashing the berry up pretty good).
Put all the mashed fruit in a pot, add a little water (I think I put in about 3/4 cup) and put it on the stove.
Cook it until the fruit is all soft and cooked.
Now you're going to strain the juice off. Here's a method I remember in my kitchen as a kid, so I did the same thing. There might be other ways, but this works pretty well without much work. Put your strainer in the pot that will collect the jelly (yes, it's on the floor).
Put a few layers of cheesecloth in the strainer (yes, my floor is clean).
Pour the cooked fruit in the cheesecloth (no, my floor is not clean anymore).
Get a dowel or broom handle and a couple of chairs and set it up like this:
Now tie the cheesecloth around the dowel and carefully pull the strainer out from under it. I guess you could leave the strainer in, it really doesn't hurt anything.
Let the juice drip from the fruit for a while. If you want really clear jelly, don't squeeze the bag. If you want all the juice you can get even if you get some pulp with it, twist the bag and squeeze out more juice (that's what I did).
In your pot is magical fruit juice. Phew. That was enough for one day. I put the juice in a couple of jars and put them in the fridge for the night. (you sure don't have to do that--you can skip right on to making the jelly if you want, it was just that it was already past my bedtime, so I had no desire to make jelly that night.)

Now we'll make the jelly. Find a good jelly recipe. I used a recipe for "berry" jelly from my Ball Blue Book. Here it is:

3 1/2 cups fruit juice
1 package powdered pectin
2 TB lemon juice
5 cups sugar

I did not use the recipe for currant jelly because my juice was about 2/3 berries and 1/3 currants, so I went with the berry recipe instead. Most pectin boxes have recipes inside them as well. Measure the juice into a pot and add the lemon juice if it's in your recipe. You can add a little water to bring it up to the full amount of juice if you want. The second batch I did, I didn't have enough juice so I put some apricot nectar in--now it's kind of a mixed fruit jelly instead of mulberry/currant, but still turned out purple and delicious. Another option to make up the amount of juice if you're short a little bit would be to use whatever juice you have in your fridge, maybe a grape or apple. It's not concentrated enough to make the whole jelly batch with it, but it's okay if you need to make up a half cup or so of liquid.
Okay, now we've got the juice in the pot, add the pectin and stir it in. Bring to a boil, then add the sugar and stir it in. Bring back to a rolling boil and boil for however long is specified in your jelly directions (mine was 1 minute hard boil). Hard or rolling boil is a boil that doesn't stop when it's stirred. I stirred most of the time it was cooking.
Meanwhile, heat your jar lids in a pan of water . . . yeah, I usually forget this step until I'm ready to can and then have to heat them up fast to put them on the jars. Don't skip this step--the lid makers have gotten cheaper on the gooey stuff that seals the lids over the years and it just doesn't seal right if it's not put on the jar hot. I used to be able to put the lid right on the jar without heating it and it sealed fine, but not anymore. Heat your lids.
After the boiling, remove the jelly from the heat and ladle hot jelly into jars leaving 1/2 inch or so headspace.
Process 5 minutes in boiling water canner and then pull them out, let them cool, and enjoy on your toast the next day :)
Besides tasting better than store jam or jelly, canning your own also saves a ton of cash over buying it. AND you can make whatever kind of jam or jelly you want, so you're not limited to the varieties on the store shelf. Seriously good stuff there.


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