Monday, October 02, 2006

Little House in Suburbia

A couple of weeks ago, I quietly tested the canning waters. I decided that with all of the grapes and apples from Prairie Dock Farm, I'd attempt not only my first canning, but my first jelly. I don't like the taste of packaged pectin, and I hoped that the fruits were tart enough to literally hold their own. Had I realized the extent of work involved in the process, I might have backed out. First came de-seeding two pounds of grapes. That would be tedious enough with conventional grapes. The organic grapes held quite a few..."surprises". Then I cooked the salvaged grape pulp down, squeezed it through cheesecloth, and was left with a dishearteningly small bowl of lovely purple juice. That sat uncovered overnight in the refrigerator. The next day I quartered apples and removed any "surprises" as with the grapes. Same process--cook, strain, apple juice! It was difficult to see all of the "waste" created in the juicing process, although I knew it would benefit our own gardens in time. Then came the real test of combining the juices, adding sugars, and cooking to the right temperature. I was very nervous about the judgement of when it was ready, due to the Spring's marshmallow debacle. I persevered through my fears, poured the thickened juice/gel into the jars, sealed them, processed the jars. The small amount that was left in the pan gelled encouragingly. I scraped it onto some crackers for Sprout and Bird, who dubbed it "Super Jelly".

It took me a while to even get up the courage to test the seal on the jar, even though I knew that if the seal was bad, I'd be up a creek. Luckily, the seals were good. I was still too nervous to test the jelly to see if it had set though. I couldn't imagine going through all of that work for a failure, though I acknowledge that failures are often a necessary part of the path to success. Last night we went to the Harvest Festival at Prairie Dock, and I figured it would be fitting to take a jar of the jelly I'd made with their bounty. First, I had to make sure I wouldn't embarass myself. So we popped a seal on the jar, and I nervously stuck a knife in. Success! It had gelled beautifully. We spread some on Beo's freshly baked sourdough. It was wonderful. It's amazing to have something so comforting made from such simple components. I can certainly see the joy that creating and preserving brought to our prairie ancestors, and to modern preservers of today. I hope to experience it more often now that I've overcome my intial fears. I realize now thought that jelly like this must have been quite a luxury, and while I'm thankful for the bounty of local farms, and my ability to create from it, I'm also quite thankful for grocery stores.


e4 said...

I think the thing to keep in mind with canning is to see the food preserved rather than the waste byproducts. Think about life before grocery stores and freezers - You'd plant as much and as many food crops as you could. When the grapes were in, they were in with abandon. Same for apples, tomatoes, strawberries, whatever. Of course nobody can eat grapes 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, and you still needed a way to feed yourself through the cold winter. Hence, preserves.

The "waste" byproducts may have been used to make other dishes, fermented beverages (another form of preservation), livestock feed, who knows. I bet there were a lot of uses besides the compost heap (which is a great use anyway). It certainly doesn't take many mature apple trees or grapevines to outstrip the short-term needs of a family.

But, if the waste concerns you, you might want to read about drying & dehydrating. I've been reading up on it lately. (I even made a simple solar dehydrator, coming to a blog near you...) Drying requires a lot less time & energy (people or fossil-based), and is supposed to hang onto nutrients better. But I have barely scratched the surface of the topic myself, so dive in at your own risk...

Mia said...

Hm, methinks I didn't communicate my ideas on the matter that well. I realize that jelly is a luxury, not the utilitarian side of preserving. The juice is extracted from the seeds, core, skin and all, so the pulp that's left is a pretty big mess, and theoretically devoid of all of the good stuff. If we kept pigs--now that it might have been good for. Actually, making the jelly was a somewhat good way to salvage the grapes and apples once we realized how wormy they were! Additionally, I don't think all of the sugar that goes into it would have been plentiful back in the day. I'm thinking this might have been what started the tradition of giving jelly as a gift.

With tomatoes, green beans, and zucchini, the other things I've preserved (but not canned, because of my fear of it), there's not that much waste at all. I've actually dried in the past and have been digging around for my old dehdrator just the past couple of weeks.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I got ya. I missed your point there. Sorry for the tangent. :)

It's fascinating to learn how involved some of these things were before we had the seemingly unlimited quantities and varieties of everything at our fingertips.

Mia said...

My communication hasn't exactly been a shining example lately. :)

I really was amazed at the amount of work that went into it. I'll probably only ever do jelly again if we have a similar situation where it's the best way to salvage the fruit. I think jam preserves much more of the fruit, but I haven't found a non-pectin method yet.

Beo said...

This past batch Mia turned the process on its head. Instead of making massive 'waste', the jelly itself was made from the was the peelings and cores from several pies that were destined for the Worm Bin. Taste is perfect!