Monday, February 20, 2012

My Father-In-Law & the Infamous Quince Jelly Episode

I've been thinking a lot about my father-in-law, Herb, who passed away quite suddenly last week. Now that the shock is wearing off just a little, and the fog is starting to lift from our collective family consciousness, a flood of great memories keeps coming to me. Given my long-standing love affair with creating unusual preserves, it might not be surprising to know that one of my favorite memories of my father-in-law has to do with - what else? - making jelly for him.

Herb Rubin
It all started when my in-laws retired and moved from Upstate New York to a home in a neighboring town here in Colorado so we could all be closer. Herb discovered that, among other things, the yard of their new home contained a quince tree. He was very excited when that tree produced fruit and asked if I could make jelly from that fruit.

I'd never made quince jelly before. I didn't even know what a quince was and I'd never actually seen the fruit before. But I was, and still am, always up for a challenge, so I happily picked up the culinary gauntlet Herb had thrown. I headed to the Internet to do some research and it wasn't long before I'd found what seemed to be a suitable recipe.

It called for 3 pound of quince and I relayed my needs to my father-in-law, who quickly obliged by bringing over a sack of small, yellow fruit with a shape similar to a misshapen pear. When weighed, it would take 20 of these pieces of fruit to make the 3 pounds I needed. The recipe called for rubbing the fruit with a towel to remove the fuzz, cutting the fruit in half, using a melon baller to remove the seeds and cores and bundling those seeds and cores into a piece of cheesecloth to boil out the natural pectin. Why I didn't just use a box of pectin is a story for another day.

What you should know about quince, and what I quickly learned, is that they are hard. Ridiculously hard. Mahogany hard! But I was determined to make this happen. By the time I was done preparing the fruit, my hands were bleeding and I had blisters that would take weeks to heal. But I'd done it. I made that jelly, and it was pretty darned tasty. Herb was so proud to have something made from fruit he'd picked off his very own tree.

Two weeks later, as I did some grocery shopping, I stopped in my tracks. There, in the middle of the produce section, was a lovely display of GIGANTIC quince. At least I thought they were gigantic. They were actually normal sized fruit and I would only have needed to process 5 of them to the 20 from my father-in-law. Turns out, those quince Herb gave me were the smallest, saddest quince ever to be turned into jelly and if either of us had had a clue what a quince should look like, or how many should make up a pound, I wouldn't be sharing this story with you now.

We both laughed pretty hard when I told him about it, and he never asked me to make jelly from his quince tree again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Recipe: Syd's Grand Marnier Jelly

To get things started on the recipe front, here's one of my own creations - Grand Marnier Jelly. This is easy to make and something different. Given that it's the middle of winter and cold (at least it is here in Colorado!), I like this recipe because it doesn't rely on fresh fruit, which can be hard to come by this time of year. I'm pretty picky about using fresh ingredients in all my jams and jellies, so I'm always on the lookout for recipes I can make in the dead of winter.

It occurs to me as I type this that the first recipe I mentioned in this blog was beer jelly (for which I'll share the recipe when I have it "perfected") and now I'm sharing a recipe for jelly made with liqueur. Not sure what you'll all think of that, but I promise that not EVERYTHING I'll share with you starts with some sort of alcohol!

Syd's Grand Marnier Jelly

1/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup pure orange juice (no pulp, or strained)
1/4 cup water
3/4  cup Grand Marnier (or other orange flavored) liqueur
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine all ingredients except liquid pectin in a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

Stir in full pouch of liquid pectin. When the mixture comes back to a full, rolling boil, continue cooking, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour into hot, prepared jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe rims and apply lids and rings to fingertip tightness. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes at sea level, adding time for higher altitudes. Where I live in Colorado, the correct boiling time is 25 minutes.

Here's a great link to the Ball canning web site's altitude adjustment chart. This is a great one to print out and keep handy if you need it.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Welcome to In A Jam!
Preserving delicious food for family and friends used to be a natural part of being a homemaker. Now it's a hobby and, in my case, a passion (maybe a sickness!). It reminds us of a time when people put real effort into what they fed their families and the food just plain tasted better. I've had a fascination with bringing out the best in food for most of my adult life. Along the way, I've filled too many canning jars to count, fed a whole lot of friends, family and colleagues and won some blue ribbons for my efforts.

Many of the people I've shared my jams and jellies with had never before tasted real, homemade preserves and it's an awakening for them. Nothing store-bought can compare.

If you've already discovered the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with getting into the kitchen and turning a bowl full of fresh fruit into sparkling jars of goodness, I invite you to share your experiences, questions, recipes and photos here.

If you're just starting out, or thinking about getting started, I hope you'll consider this blog a resource and a place to gain some confidence. I'm always happy to share some of the tips and tricks I've picked up over the past twenty plus years.
Spiced beer jelly ingredients in the pot.

For my part, I plan to share my adventures with all kinds of jams, jellies, salsas, veggies and pickles - and I do LOVE to try new and unusual recipes. For instance, this weekend, I'm going to try to whip up a batch of spiced beer jelly. I've attempted this one before. The flavor was amazing, but the set was too firm, more like honey than jelly. I'm hoping for a better result this time around. I'll let you know how it goes!
Bubbling nicely.
The finished product!

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