One of the things that is changing immediately in the Den is that we won’t be buying things we could make ourselves – that includes jams and jellies, which as you might expect we tend to go through at a fairly rapid pace around here.
In practical terms, this means I’d better get hopping on laying down what we’ll want over the winter – berry season will be over before we know it, and I’m pretty sure the kids will mutiny if we run out of jelly in January and I refuse to buy any more.
Next year, it’ll be our own berries I’m turning into jams and such, but for this year we’re getting most of them from roadside stands. This is part of the flat I got from a farm stand near Byron – they were super-super ripe, so the nice lady practically gave them to me. I paid $6 for a box that usually runs $20…but they were in use them NOW! condition.
A few weeks ago, I made a smaller batch of no-added-pectin strawberry preserves. They’re great, but the Denizens don’t like them much on their sandwiches. They’re too thick, almost chewy, and extremely concentrated in flavor. (Needless to say, the grownups are ecstatic about them.)
They also took forever to cook down enough to set.
This time, I wanted to make a more store-bought-like jelly and wanted to be done much sooner – so I used store-bought pectin. It makes for a reliable set, almost idiot-proof (real handy around here, let-me-tell-you), and reduces the cooking time from an eternity to less than five minutes.
First I ran the berries through the food mill to remove the seeds (diverticulitis flare-ups and those little tiny seeds don’t play nicely together). This left me with what was practically just strawberry juice – albeit a rather thick juice.
Then I did a Super Basic Jelly Recipe (almost right off the pectin box, but with a little more lemon juice, less sugar and a lot more volume), and ended up with these (plus another half-pint in the fridge…and already half gone…):
It came out awesome. Smooth, sweet, and oh-so-spreadable.
It may set a little more firmly over time, but I think I’ve hit it with this one. It’s enough like store bought to get past the Denizens’ cute little noses, but is just different enough to start their adjustment to homemade staples.
One flat strawberries: $6.
One box of store-bought pectin: $2.49 (ouch) (I’ve found much better deals online)
6-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice: Free from the tree in the backyard
10 cups sugar: $2.00
Total cost: $10.49, to make six and a half pints of strawberry jelly. That’s roughly 104 ounces, or $0.10 per ounce. Not too bad, compared to the on-sale supermarket price of $0.17 an ounce.
Now, the next time I make this jelly, I’ll be using backyard strawberries ($2.25 for the season’s starting plants, with a guesstimate of about fifty cents in growing costs for this many berries) (it’s a pretty un-educated guesstimate…we’ll see how it actually works out…if I can actually track things to that kind of level, which I likely can’t), and bulk-bought pectin ($0.39 an ounce instead of $1.88).
While I could do without the store-bought pectin, I think I’ll stick with it. The time savings alone is worth its weight in gold, but adding in the “sure set” part just clinches the deal. I’ve tried using none, and I’ve tried grinding up an apple or two for a pectin-boost…the results are good, but again there’s added time to cook and uncertainty around how much pectin that particular apple might have had.
I’m really enjoying the benefits of modern science right now. Woot, perfect set!!
The total out of pocket cost of that batch will be $3.25, or $0.03 an ounce. Righteous!
We can easily go through a pint of jelly a month; actually, I think it’s closer to every three weeks. (If I turned my back for just five minutes, we could probably go through a pint in less than that same five minutes around here…)
If I buy the cheap jelly when it goes on sale, I’m spending $2.99 a jar at the supermarket, which works out to roughly $50 a year.
Making it this way, with the supermarket-bought pectin, I’d be spending around $30 a year to make it. Making it from homegrown berries with the cheaper bulk pectin, I’m spending only $9 annually on it…thus “earning” around $40 for my trouble.
And I know exactly what’s in it. Nothing I can’t pronounce. No corn syrup, high fructose or otherwise. No dyes, no extra flavorings, no long chemical names that mean ‘keep it looking bright pink for six years if need be.’
I’ll be making a smaller batch of grape jelly (from store-bought grape juice I have out in the garage), and hopefully I’ll get out there pretty soon for a serious berry-picking day and get enough blackberries to make some seedless blackberry jelly as well. (Mine. All mine. Back off, man, just back off!!!)
These are exactly the kinds of steps I’m looking at taking – the steps we tend to dismiss as being too small to be worth even doing, too much work for the return they give, too much bother to, well, bother with.
At the moment, it’s fun. I’m sure it will become work soon enough…especially when making the jelly is coming on the heels of getting out in the heat to pick all the berries.
Pam, to answer your question from yesterday about the pressure canner – not for these. I only use the pressure canner for low-acid things like corn or green beans (although frankly, I prefer to freeze those – less fussing around to get the job done, and I think they taste better).
These were done with a boiling water method; the near-boiling jelly is poured into hot jars (sterilized in the canner while I was cooking the jelly), the lids and screw bands applied, and then the jars are all put back into the canner (any pot big enough to hold them and their “rack”, which can be something as simple as extra screw bands tied together, without crowding, with enough room at the top for at least an inch of water to cover them) and processed in boiling water. These went for twenty minutes under the boiling water, then five minutes to ‘rest’ in the pot off the heat, then twenty-four hours to cool undisturbed on the kitchen counter.
Half pints would take about half the time; quart jars would need a little more.
I don’t use wax to seal the jars – I just make sure the seal is good (the lid is pressing downward, and doesn’t budge when I take the screw band off and push on it), then label and put them away in the cupboard. They should be good for a full year from the date they’re made.
Whether or not they’ll actually last that long is another question entirely.