Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wild Pectin

My "go-to" cookbook for years has been The Joy of Cooking, because it includes so much background information. For example, the intro to jellies includes information about pectin. By using natural pectin, instead of commercial pectin such as Sure-Gel, jellies require about half the sugar resulting in an intense fruit flavor.

But the seven bags of Concord grapes on my counter are not high in pectin. The Joy gave several options for natural pectin for grape jelly: use under-ripe fruit, use wild grapes, add an apple. So here are the steps for making low-sugar grape jelly without commercial pectic:

1. Take a ride on the river.
Make a date with your husband to go to the St. Joseph River in the Western Lake Erie watershed. Nose the riverboat into shore and cut off (prune?) the vines until you have a large pile on the floor of the boat. Remove the clusters. Step on numerous tiny grapes (they are smaller than blueberries), staining the floor with unique patterns of reddish purple. Watch the moon rise as you head back to the landing. Some sweet smooching is required at this point.

2. Ignore all warnings posted on the blog of an Internet friend.
Google "wild grape jelly" and find this post by Kylee, which includes the money quote:
The first thing I had to do was take all those tiny grapes off their stems. This job reminded me of shelling peas. It takes forever and a day of cleaning those before you get enough to feed two people one time.
3. Spend five hours de-stemming the grapes.
Yes, it takes a long time. Kylee is right. To break the monotony of this chore, make two batches of Concord jelly using some under-ripe fruit and half an apple to 8 cups of grapes. Making jelly with natural pectin requires a candy thermometer to know when the syrup reaches the sheet stage. If you are easily entertained, as I am, use the spoon method to test the jelly as well as the thermometer. Instead of the one or two minutes required with commercial pectic, this approach takes about 30 minutes of cooking.

4. Accept five bags of peaches and pears from brother.
At this point, you may be getting slightly insane, so when your brother calls and offers you peaches and pears from his orchard, resist the offer. Remember you still have four bags of grapes left on your counter. I didn't resist. My son drove over and collected the fruit so it could sit on my table. I ran out of counter room.

5. Cook, drain and strain the fruit.
The proportion of seeds to juice for wild grapes is about 10 times more than for Concord grapes. Empty the cooked wild grapes into a fine mesh strainer, listening for the clunk of seeds instead of the usual plop. For clear jelly, strain for 15 hours. Skip the straining if you are getting impatient or if you must use every last edible bit of these grapes.

6. Add sugar to grape juice and boil until it gels.
Add the sugar gradually, tasting the syrup until it is the right combination of sweet and tart. The wild grapes will gel in about ten minutes.

7. Seal in small jars.
It is important to use the smallest jars possible. This is precious stuff. Don't calculate the cost of each jar based on your consulting rate. You may weep.

8. Let your son lick the pan.
And smile knowingly when he raves about the taste.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

75 and Still Alive

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer last fall and was given months to live. She said if she was still alive on August 30, her 75th birthday, she was going to have a huge party. She responded well to the palliative chemotherapy so she invited friends and family to celebrate. 75 and Still Alive was the theme. I'm sure that attitude has helped in her battle these last few months.

The Voyager's Maiden Voyage

Last weekend, Steve and I finally slipped away to Michigan, just over the state line, to camp and canoe the Fawn River near Sturgis. It has been likened to rivers in Canada by more than one nature writer. The night before we left, Steve finished the canoe.

We had a great time with my brother, his girlfriend and four other couples camped in the crook of the Fawn near Sturgis. Two of my brothers have camped here by permission of the landowner for almost 30 years, but this was my first trip. We had such a good time that another couples trip was scheduled for October.

Brother John, whom I call Fireboy, is the fire architect. Sunday night he put a large hollow log upright on the fire and we watched flames shoot through the chimney and discussed which way it would fall. In this picture, he is bracing the chimney with several "small" logs in the foreground.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Renaissance Woman

Here's a nice post by a marketing person from Indy (shorthand at work for Department of Natural Resources) who visited the site last week. I gave her a tour of the Cabin and gardens and I see some of my viewpoint of Gene Stratton-Porter reflected in this post. I'm curious on how this would read if another interpreter gave her the tour.