This has been a year of firsts for me. I’ve never seen a broody hen with chicks (or ducklings) before, and this summer I’ve had no less than 5 hens hatch out babies (the most successful one had done it twice!). I bought my Dexter heifers last summer, and this spring, they presented me with the first calves that have ever been mine. I have started garden seeds indoors for the last several years, and this year, for the first time, a few actually survived once I got them transplanted outside. Seems I have a little trouble with that “hardening off” concept.
I’ve wanted to try canning for a long time, and I’ve been collecting the necessary tools at thrift stores and clearance sales for a couple of years. When we discovered that masses of chokecherries were ripe, I knew it was time to give it a shot. I started off by making jam, because that wastes the least amount of the fruit. I wasn’t even sure if I’d like chokecherry jam, or chokecherry anything. I know my mother tried making the jelly once, and it tasted like straw. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure she didn’t use ripe berries.
I decided to try making jam the old-fashioned way. This involves using fruit pulp (cook the berries in a little water til they start to burst, then pour off the water and then mash and strain them through a sieve to get the pulp), sugar (a lot of sugar), and a lot of time standing over the stove. The reason I used this method is that commercial pectin isn’t exactly free, and I don’t have any producing apple trees to make my own. The smell coming from the stove was heavenly. The heat was not.
Once the jam cooked down (this took a good long while), I ladled it into jelly jars and processed it in the canner that I thrifted last summer. Then I moved on to syrup. I saved the cooking water (which was cloudy and full of juice) and added an equal amount of sugar to it, and boiled it down to syrup on the stove. I wasn’t looking for pancake syrup, but a thinner syrup to add to lemonade, ice cream or tea. Then I canned the syrup too. Lucky for you, I’ve found the camera, so you get so see syrup and not ducks.
My dad had mentioned that he likes chokecherry jelly, but since he’s diabetic, I know that he watches his sugar consumption very carefully. I decided to try some low-sugar jam for him. To do that I had to use low-sugar pectin. Where old-fashioned jam requires equal parts fruit pulp and sugar, the low sugar variety uses about 4 parts pulp to 1 part sugar. This recipe goes much faster than the no-pectin recipe, and the resulting jam was a shade lighter in color.
I wound up with about 15 jars of jam, and 9 jars of syrup. And a kitchen that looks like a bomb went off. Once I recover from the chokecherry project, I’ve got some black currants waiting for me.
What have you harvested lately?