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Jelly Making

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The fourth batch of Mustang grape jelly is complete and it appears to be set and clear, although it is a dark maroonish color. I thought I would post a more detailed description with some excellent guidelines for novice jelly makers…..FYI I am not to far beyond novice when it comes to jellies…..I am much more experienced with jams!

 

Mustang Grape Jelly

5 cups strained juice

7 cups sugar

1 package Sure Jell Premium pectin

1 tsp butter

 

Prepare juice

In a large pot add 1 to two gallons of washed and de-stemmed Mustang grapes. Add enough water to cover the grape. Heat to a boil and use a potato masher to burst skins and mash the pulp. Boil for 20-25 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth. Do not squeeze the pulp, let Mother Nature and gravity do the work. Your patience will result in a much more clear jelly. Store in the refridgerator until ready to use….probably no longer than one week.

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 Gift sized jar. Love the beautiful clear color.

Jelly making

Add 5 cups of juice to a “tall” pot. Add pectin and butter and heat on high, continually stirring, until it is at a rolling boil, one that cannot be stirred down.When it boils it foams up pretty high.  Add the 7 cups of sugar all at once. Heat until to a full boil again while continually stirring. Boil 3-5 minutes. This is a bit of a subjective –  to test if the jelly has cooked long enough – I found this great description with photos….unfortunately I couldn’t seem to get them to embed themselves so I grabbed a few off the web.  My experience is that it takes a good 5 minutes to get to the sheet test stage for this jelly….The sheet test is when I take it off the heat and ladle into the jar. I sometimes use the wrinkle test but i look to see how slowly it sheets off the spoon as my gauge. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/testing-homemade-jellies-for-gel-point-1327874

“In theory, you can use a candy thermometer to check when the jelly’s temperature reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit (at sea level), but that’s not always the most reliable way to ensure your jelly is ready to cool.

Fortunately, there are other methods for testing jelly. Descriptions of how to do a jelly “sheet test,” “spoon test,” or “wrinkle test” can seem mysterious if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Let’s demystify those methods so that you can make jelly with confidence.

During the early stage of cooking jelly, the liquid is visible while it boils. It’s nowhere near ready yet. You’ll need to let the liquid boil until it becomes one gelatinous liquid with no separate liquid visible boiling to the surface.

Once you’ve established that the liquid is condensed into one form, then and only then should you apply the sheet or spoon test, but the temperature of the liquid is likely to be below 220 degrees at this point in the process.

Still, when you’re satisfied with the consistency of your jelly, dip a large spoon into the boiling pot and lift it about one and a half feet above the pot to pour the liquid jelly out all at once. What you’re looking for is the very last bit of jelly to come off the spoon. During the early stage of cooking, the last bit will pour off in a single drop.

As it gets near the gel point, bubbles will cover the entire surface of the boiling jelly and start to climb up the sides of the pot. This is when you know your ingredients have condensed into one liquid form and are just about ready to set. Temperatures inside the liquid should be in the 220 degree-range no matter where you stick the candy thermometer.

Do another spoon test – When the jelly is almost done, the last bit of liquid jelly will come off the spoon in two drops rather than one. This means that the jelly has already begun to form into a new jelly-like compound and should theoretically be ready to take off the heat and let cool in your jelly molds. Still, you should apply the sheet test to make sure it’s fully ready.

The sheet test – When the jelly is ready, the last drops pouring off the spoon will run together and “sheet” off the spoon. What you want to look for at this stage is the absence of large droplets replaced by these amorphous globs instead. Once the liquid no longer pours off in drops but slide off in sheets, you’re ready to apply the final test: the wrinkle test.

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The Wrinkle Test – In order to apply the wrinkle test, have a small plate in the freezer while you are cooking the jelly. When you think it is done (based on the spoon test or temperature), place a small amount of jelly on the plate and return the plate to the freezer for 1 minute. If the jelly wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it is done.”

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Results have been good through 3 batches. I will attempt to do a batch with the Sure Jell light pectin in the very near future. Fingers crossed. The Sure Jell Low/No sugar pectin recipe guide lines for the grape jelly uses 5 ½ cups of juice and 3 ½ cups of sugar. That is HALF the sugar of the other recipe.

TTFN

Bishop

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Muscadines…or is it Mustang Grapes…..Both are a Southern Thing

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A note about the delay posting this addition. I am confident that the Mustang grape vs. the Muscadine confusion has been resolved. I have been picking Mustang grapes. The Foraging Texas website has definitive descriptions. So, read on…….

It seems that the longer that I am living in Texas, the more I learn about the “life in the background”. Even though I am living at the edge of a huge city. Houston proper is home to about 2.3 million people, while the Metropolitan Statistical Area is nearly 6.5 million people. Crazy, I was just commenting to to my “Goo” friend John the other day that I never pictured myself living in a big city! Strange as it may seem, in the midst of this 6.5 million people, there is a good sized chunk of southern rural life.

Out for a bike ride the other day in my rural/urban setting of Kingwood, I spot purple spots on the bike path. I stop and look up……Hmmmmm, looks like Muscadine wild grapes. (not!!!!! see lead in note)

Vitis mustangensis, commonly known as the mustang grape, is a species of grape that is native to the southern United States

This woody species produces small clusters of hard green fruit that ripen into soft 34-inch (2 cm) dark purple berries in August–September.

They have a thick outer layer of flesh and on average contain four seeds. This variety of grape is recognized by the white velvet-like underside of the leaves, and often covers small trees, shrubs, fences and other objects that it grows near.[3]

At the beginning of the article I thought I was picking muscadines…so I wrote….

“Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) is a member of the grape family. It is native to much of North America and grows wild in roadsides and forests.

It has been extensively cultivated since the 16th century. Its natural range is recognized in the following states of the US: Alabama, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. They are well adapted to their native warm and humid climate; they need fewer chilling hours than better known varieties and they thrive on summer heat.”

I rode home and grabbed my bucket, put it into the saddle bagss on my bicycle and headed out. FYI, be prepared to drip sweat when picking Muscadines (and Mustang grapes)…..even early in the morning…80 degrees F and north of 70% humidity…..perfect for these grapes.

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I am I little taller than the average guy. I saw purple spots on the bike path on the West Lake Houston bridge and looked up. Within my grasp was a vine….a good firm pull and it was down at picking height.

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Lots of big and very ripe Muscadine (Mustang) grapes. I returned home with almost 8 pounds and – completely sweat drenched….90+ degrees and very humid.

It was obvious that the bridge had been picked pretty hard. I had spotted some vines nearby, the spot is my secret, and rode the over to investigate more closely.

 

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I have competition. In the shadow of the big city and adjacent to a busy 4 lane highway is a patch of grapes tempting the local deer. Look closely at the tracks in the sand. I probably picked 4 pounds from this location where the deer were browsing.

Several days prior to this adventure in picking/foraging, I picked about 3 gallons of ripe Muscadines (Mustang grapes) and processed them into juice for the first of several batches of jelly. I first washed then froze the grapes to burst the skins. I put them into a deep pot and covered them with water, just barely covering them. Cranked up the stove and mashed the heck out of them as they boiled. I boiled them for about 25 minutes while mashing and stirring.

You get the idea….a bit of work but well worth it. next, gotta strain off the juice through a double layer of cheesecloth.

The result of my efforts…..I filled a 1/2 gallon jar and about 1/2 quart of a dark rich Juice.

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A good start on the jelly making. Just a note; if you want clear jelly, do not squeeze the pulp, let mother nature and gravity do the work.

Muscadine Jelly – FYI….it was Mustang grapes so the final product more like “tart sweet”.

4 cups of juice

3 cups of sugar

1 package of Sure Jell premium (yellow box) pectin

1 tsp butter to reduce foam

Add pectin to juice and stir well. Bring the mixture up to a full rolling boil then add sugar all at once. Stir vigorously to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil again and count of 60 seconds at full boil. Skim foam and fill your hot sterilized jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and let he jars sit undisturbed for a couple of days so the jelly sets up properly. Should make 5 half pints plus a little more.

Mustang Grape Jelly 

Same process to obtain juice.

5 cup of juice

1 pkg Sure Jell Premium (yellow box) mixed with juice.

Bring to a full boil and add 7 cups of sugar…that’s right, 7 cups.

Bring to a full boil for 3-5 minutes, the two batches I made took the full 5 minutes to get to the proper jelling point. Test drops on a cold plate until satisfied if it is ready….a bit subjective but it works. Skim the foam, fill sterilized jars and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let sit undisturbed for a couple of days…..I think I read that somewhere else…..Hmmmm.

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One of several gift jars I made with the batch. I will make another two batches later this week. Love the beautiful color.

For the total “Southern” experience, I am in the process of making Muscadine (Mustang grape) wine with the 8 pounds I picked yesterday. I had a great visit with the owner of the The Grain Cellar down in Humble, TX. besides being a home brewer, he is a knowledgeable wine maker and a knowledgeable resource on yeasts. He loves to share his knowledge with customers….as well as sample of his wine making as well as his beer brewing….I will attempt to make about 4 gallons of wine!!!!!

Now….from this evening….Preston at he Grain Cellar insisted that I did not pick Muscadines so he started me on the research journey….. Preston, you were correct. The definitive plant description is found by examining the leaves. Mustang grapes have a “white” lighter color on the underside of the leaves. Muscadines are green, top and bottom. Now I know.

The Mustang Grape “must” in the wine making bucket has a great aroma. I am looking forward to finishing the process. I will post the wine making adventure later.

Three batches of jelly are in the jars, the last two made properly…heh, heh. Not sure if I will go out and sweat again to pick any more….and the season for the Mustang grapes is beginning to close….to hot! and too little rain!

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

Blueberry Bonanza

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I keep a handful of my beehives at Blakelock’s Berries, they have young, early season blueberries and three varieties of luscious blackberries. My wife and I both love blueberries and was able to satisfy some of our cravings from the early picking at Blakelock’s.

The go to place for blueberries on the north side of Houston has been out at Moorehead’s off FM 1314. The berries are abundant but the parking, traffic and lines at the checkout station are much more than my crowd anxiety can put up with.

Today I made a discovery, a Blueberry Bonanza! Pioneer Berries at 2512 Pioneer Lane north of Highway 105 and just west of Cleveland, TX. It seems like a looooong mile north of 105 but trust me, you won’t miss it on the right side of the road.

The blueberry plants are younger than Moorehead’s but much more mature than Blakelock’s. If you like to pick when the weather is cooler, hit up Blakelock’s – their berries are ready to pick in mid April and are done by the end of May. If you want to stock the freezer you have early and late choices.

How did I stumble across this place? Well, even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then! I went the the bee supply store near Conroe and was headed to Splendora to check on my beehives. I chose Highway 105 as it was the most direct route. Cruise control was set at 60 mph, yes it really was, and I went right past the sign pointing north off of 105. Safe U-turn and I was on my way to Pioneer Berries.

Plenty of parking for the weekend crowd. They don’t get overrun like Moorehead’s.

Look close many ripe berries and many, many more to come.

Oops, the berries are not in focus but they are still very tasty, blurry image and all!

This typical. I picked for less than 15 minutes as I had the bees calling me.


3 Point 9 pounds of berries laid out to dry, sort through, remove stems and soft berries. Oh yes, a little to snack on before bagging and freezing.

The left bucket is some nice light honey from 77339, about 18 pounds has already been bottled. The right bucket is from 9 frames I extracted after berry picking today. It will be about 25 pounds after I clean up and drain the extractor and uncapping tank. The jars on the right are a nice dark red-amber honey – a little over 15 pounds. Part of this dark honey will be converted to Cinnamon Creamed honey by the end of next week.

The bees are really packing in the honey right now. I am looking forward to a very good spring/early summer harvest.

I will be off to Blakelock’s in the morning to round up some berry farm honey for what he expects to be a big day on June 2nd. I will be sell honey from zip codes 77345 & 77339 – Kingwood/Porter, 77328 – Splendora and 77302/77306 – Grangerland. I will also be selling my homemade jams, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry. Come on out for a good time picking Blackberries at Blakelock’s and if you want safe and sane blueberry picking, head on over to Pioneer Berries.

TTFN

Bishop

Two More Batches of Jam

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Yesterday was a busy day in the kitchen. I had planned on making a batch of both strawberry and blueberry jams. My wife had decided to do some full week meal prep the same day. Communication on each of our endeavors was, how should I say it, absent. We did manage to get our respective tasks done but I was crowding my timeline to get off to my evening workout at the gym! We were both successful!

Not an advertisement but a graphic visual of the low sugar pectin I have had so much luck and success with.

A short clip at an awkward angle of what a “full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down” looks like! It is a common question of novice Jam/Jelly makers.

The delicious foam scraped off of the jam after removing from the heat. I wonder if there is market for such a thing!

Finished product cooling and waiting for labels. I know, the pink towel really doesn’t lend itself to a quality “Good Housekeeping” type of food photo. I need to brush up on the technique.

I have at least two more batches of Strawberry Jam to make and blackberry season starts this week at Blakelock’s Berries out in Grangerland at my apiary location!

FYI, I inspected the bees out there yesterday and saw the most beautiful and large blackberries! Yes, just to ensure they were ripe, I sampled a couple before the birds had a chance!

TTFN

Bishop

My Strawberry Jam

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I am about to give away the secret to making my very well received and highly praised, Strawberry Jam. A quote from one of my regular customers, “How can you go back to “Smucker’s” after tasting Bishop’s jam?”

Side Note – I have labeled it preserves in the past but a little research shows that I make jams!

Summary:

1.The differences between jam and preserves are:

2.Jam is made from chopped or crushed fruit.

3.Preserves are made from whole chunks of fruit.

4.Jam contains sugar, pectin, and lemon juice.

5.Preserves are only boiled in sugar.

6.Jam is allowed to jell.

7.Preserves are not jelled in the process of manufacturing.

http://www.differencebetween.net/object/comparisons-of-food-items/difference-between-jam-and-preserves/

It’s not that I do anything out of the ordinary to make my “jams”, other than the fact that every berry in the process is/was hand selected by me! In fact, 75% of the strawberries originate in my garden although I do supplement with strawberries picked, again, by me, at “Wood Duck Farm”, about 25 minutes north of Kingwood. They are grown, as are mine, with no chemicals of any sort.

Laying out some of the tools of the trade. Four cups of sugar minus 1/4 cup mixed with the pectin prior to cooking. I use the Sure Jell pectin for my jams, they are made with 1/3 less sugar than with regular pectin. A spoon to skim the foam and yes I rinse it off after every lick. Green handle magnet to save my pinkies. An 8 ounce ladle…It does help when filling 8 ounce jars. Jar tongs….indispensable for fishing jars out from the boiling hot water just prior to filling. Last but not least, my trusty old, at least 35 years old, canning funnel.

The start of the process; 1/4 cup sugar mixed with pectin and the measured volume of crushed strawberries, just a note here, follow the recipe very darned close!!!!! Too much of the fruit mixture or too little will impact the final results. I use a potato masher to, yes, mash up the fruit, so there are some nice chunks of berry in every jar, a dab of butter to help reduce the foaming. FYI – Not sure if it helps all that much but I can’t argue with the success of the final product.

Follow the recipe; bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, i.e., cannot be stirred down. Note the light pinkish foam around the edges.  Then add remaining sugar – 3 and 3/4 cups, return to full rolling boil for one minute….I just slowly count to 75 and it seems to work for me.

Skim the foam but don’t discard. You have several choices, place in a bowl, refrigerate and use as you would any jam or preserve, or, as my wife does, spread across an egg white & oatmeal frittata, or dig in with a spoon and place directly into your mouth…..my personal favorite!

Ready to can, foam has been skimmed, jars are in a boiling water bath for sanitation purposes, ladle and funnel are ready, magnetic stick finger saver, spoon (recently licked and rinsed properly)….use however you want and the jar lids in a bowl of very hot water to soften the seals.

Grab a hot jar, drain and fill to about 1/4 inch of the topic the jar with the strawberry jam mixture. FYI, there is a tool made to gauge that space but I rarely use it, wipe any excess Jam from rim of the jar, place the lid on and screw the metal band on snuggly.

Once all the jars are filled and sealed, return to the hot water bath, submerge the jars with at least one inch of water covering the jars. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, remove and allow to cool. If you have done a good job you will hear the lids pop down as the jars cool, indicating s good seal.

Next step, distribute and bring smiles to the faces of the recipients!

TTFN

Bishop

Strawberries, Beets and Other Musings

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Let’s start right out in the field.

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This was the first of three buckets I filled in about 20 minutes of picking. The result was 14 pounds of luscious hand picked berries. Wood Duck Farms just 25 minute north form Kingwood….Organically grown and very sweet. http://www.woodduckfarm.com/

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A little clean-up and sorting….I had intended to freeze all of the berries but as it was the day before Easter my bride suggested that I make a plate of the nicer looking berries for fresh eating at our Easter luncheon……Yes Dear! I still manged to sort, clean and slice up about 10 pounds for the freezer to be made into jam. I have picked enough for two batches from my garden so I will have plenty for gifts and for a sale or two or three or more.

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A few of the berries dedicated to our Easter  Luncheon

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Two batches of low sugar strawberry jam….Sure-Jell light recipe, pink box….just 4 cups of sugar per batch vs 6 cups of the regular recipe…..And three pints of Pickled Beets.

Side note on the beets….. I used about 12 medium sized beets and roasted them in the oven at 400 deg. F for 40 minutes inside of a foil pouch. Included in the pouch were 2 tsp olive oil, 2 peeled shallots and two sprigs of Rosemary. What a great aroma….peeled and thinly sliced the beets and layered them into the pint jars with Frenched Red onions….I also learned how to French to onions……old dogs can learn. The brine was boiled for a while to allow the spices to meld. Processed in boiling water bath for 30 minutes.

  • 1 1/2 cups Tarragon wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tbsp of pickling spice.

The bees are coming – can you hear the buzzzzzzzzzzz – 4 packages of bees from Navasota on Saturday April 14 and 6 NUC’s from Jennings, Louisiana on the 12th of April…..looks like I will be a busy boy this spring!

I have decided that my experimenting with banana growing is halting… not enough joy! lots of space consumed and the returns are minor….I need to do this in Belize…..OK – I can dream. I’ll stick with mostly tried and true….with an experiment or two along the way.

Hoisted a swarm trap up onto the big oak in the back yard today. A lot of reports coming in on the “Beek” forums here in Texas with success stories. I need to be careful and not exceed my self imposed limit of ….. No more than 25 hives.

Three more batches of strawberries in the freezer awaiting their fate….Jam is such a sweet fate…And more pickings everyday from my garden. A few asparagus sprouts are being snacked upon, more beets to be picked, snap peas for a bit longer, cucumbers and beans are climbing, potatoes in pots and a few quarts of blueberries in a few weeks. I should also haul in a big load of blueberries from Blakelock’s Berry Farm in a few weeks –  Yum.

 

TTFN

Bishop

Pomegranate Jelly

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I am very sure it won’t be as good as the Pomegranate Jelly that my Aunt Josie made – my first memories of her jelly are from Christmas time nearly 60 years ago. Just saying that phrase – “60 years ago” begins to make me feel a little old! My Uncle Jim was a Foreman for Western Water Works in Taft, CA. -( I think it is called West Kern Water District now….) Back to the pomegranate…..the main yard in Taft was surrounded by a hedge of pomegranate bushes. They seemed to ripen in the late fall which probably coincided with my Christmas season memories of Aunt Josie’s pomegranate jelly.

60 years ago I didn’t know much more about her jelly other than how wonderful it was on my toast! My forays into making jams and jellies is relatively recent, in the past 10-25 years or so. Key differences from those long ago times, Aunt Josie sealed hers with a cap of melted paraffin. I remember seeing a row of 6 or 7 jars on a table in the dining room adjacent to the kitchen. Almost every jar has a little dollop of jelly that had oozed through the wax somehow and …… if no one was looking I wiped my finger through it and into my mouth……probably considered unsanitary by today’s standards but I don’t believe anyone ever became ill.

Now, comparing my jelly to Aunt Josie’s. Several years ago I did make a batch from scratch – a lot of work to extract the seeds and squeeze and make jelly…..Today I took a shortcut. I bought some organic, unsweetened pomegranate juice. My batch from scratch was very much like my Aunt’s, both in color and flavor. My store bought juice resulted in a much darker jelly. My Aunt’s jelly was translucent, like rose pink tinted lens. My offering is dark crimson and only allows a hint of light to pass through the jars.

I terms of flavor….I would say my offering is a more robust and has a hearty pomegranate flavor – still, very pleasant. I made two batches, both resulted in approximately 6 – 8 oz. jars. Batch one was straight up pomegranate.

  • 3 1/2 cups juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 packet of Sure Jell brand low/no sugar pectin….pink package
  • 1 smidge of butter to reduce foaming.

I followed the Kraft website’s directions for pomegranate jelly. Jelled up very nicely.

Batch two. – I added two cinnamon sticks and steeped them in the pomegranate juice for about 15 minutes on very low heat. I left the sticks in as I added the Sure Jell pectin and brought the mix up to a full rolling boil. I removed the sticks and added the sugar and followed to recipe as written.

Both batches were processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

In the photos shown below;

The single jar is a small 110 ml jar. In bright sunlight there is just a hint of light passing through. Dark and yummy.

The two batches shown side by side; on the right the Pomegranate Jelly and the left Pomegranate with Cinnamon.

Bee News;

Yesterday I drove out to Blakelock’s Berries out in Grangerland, 23 miles out from the house, to add a honey super to the hive out at the farm.

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Added the medium super yesterday on top of the two deep brood boxes. The girls are bringing in lots of pollen and upon close inspection those without pollen appear to have a bit of a swell to the abdomen. Hmmmmm, could it be Blueberry nectar or some other source? Note: Bumble bee hovering around the entrance before the girls chased it away.

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

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