by Melissa Ward
We’ve just said adios to a lovely Indian Summer over here in Central Oregon. Brisk winds finally pulled all of the leaves down from the big aspens, sending them into purposeful tizzies behind the old post office where they now sit in piles losing their hue and ardor to the cold. A good snow has covered the mountains with the proprietary attitude of winter, frost has claimed the bicycle seat, big black-faced sheep have started running around the neighborhood like innocent felons, firewood has been put to work, and now the first snow is patching up on its way out. But it’s still Autumn in the heart.
We’re busy at Sisters Bakery making pumpkin pies with dainty leaves on the crust, cranberry breads, pumpkin doughnuts, carrot muffins, stronger coffee, and lots of cheese sticks and Eight Grain Bread for the football people braving the pass for the tailgate parties. Good food is a form of happiness and we take pleasure in the work we do.
Since our Farmers Markets had their finale with a lovely long-table dinner several weeks ago, I was shopping at Whole Foods looking around for the apple cider they bring in at this time of year. Country Cider Mill Spiced Apple Cider is an absolutely lovely product from Olympia, Washington. This is a sweet cider, not one of the very appealing hard ciders I’d like to study in person, given the opportunity.
Last year the notion of jelly made out of fresh cider occurred to me and I found it to be an excellent idea: making a superb jelly with most of the work already done! This year I have been looking forward to making Spiced Apple Cider Jelly for my clan and in the interest of science and Thanksgiving I have produced and taken notes on more than 3 dozen 1/2 pint jars. They look so nice.
If you are an experienced jelly or jam maker there will be a lot of details following that you already know so just take the cider idea and run with it with just one caveat. The directions in the pectin box say to maintain a full rolling boil for 2 minutes–I added another minute and had much more success with jelling. Juice is extracted and cider pressed, so I deduced that they differ enough to affect this. Thus, the science part.
For the beginners, here is the recipe–straight from the box–with a few tips. A half gallon of Spiced Apple Cider will get you started.
1 dozen 8 oz canning jars with new caps and clean, perfect rings
a large cooking pot with a good heavy bottom
a large cooking pot or canning kettle for processing
a small pan for the cap part of the lids
a big bowl for the sugar
a magnetic wand to lift the caps from hot water
a jar lifter
a funnel with 2” opening
a kitchen timer
a wire whip
5 cups of cider
7 1/2 cups of sugar
1 box of pectin
Wash the jars even if they are new and sterilize them. I put them into a 230 degree oven, upside down in a small sheet pan with about 1/2” of water as in the photo, for a minimum of 20 minutes. (This is not the approved method but I’m still going to suggest it as it has never failed. If your mother says, no, then no but it does work.) I turn the timer off and just let them sit there and stay hot until I’ve got the jelly ready.
Fill the processing pot 1/2 full with water and put it on the stove to boil. When you perceive the steam and gurgling of the boil, turn it off and keep the lid on. It will be ready when you need it.
Put just the caps into the small pan and bring just to a boil and turn them off and they are ready, too.
Now the jelly process:
Measure 5 cups of cider into the heavy bottomed pot
Add the entire pouch of pectin
I use a wire whip to mix it in
Bring this to a full rolling boil on high blast, stirring constantly. I wander a little but remain vigilant in general, stirring and watching until it is assuredly not inclined to be tamed. When it makes you think about turmoil of hell, then add the sugar.
Sugar, 7 1/2 cups yes, that’s a lot but it works and the heavy admonition in the directions is that you add it quickly while stirring. So some logistics there. It’s okay to call for help.
When this comes to a full rolling boil, same characteristics, start the timer.
Here is where I diverge just a bit from the printed sheet, as mentioned.
Boil wildly for 3 minutes. Stir constantly.
Here’s how. Use a wooden spoon and scoop up a nice dollop of liquid. Holding it over the pot, slowly let it tip down and observe the last drops falling off. Two of them should appear and merge in a slightly thickened way and hereby you know that you will have jelly and not syrup. Three minutes should suffice, but if it does not appear thick and does not merge, give it a little more time in the boiling stage and keep checking. When you are satisfied, move the pot to a counter with a pad under it.
Take the jars out of the oven and place them upright on a towel. Use the funnel and ladle the jelly to 1/8” – 1/4” of the rim. Wipe each rim and the ring threads with a clean damp dish cloth. This is important. No specks, no sticky stuff.
Using the magnetic wand, dip out the top cap and put it onto the jar; fasten the ring around it firmly tight. If you have male help with this, you might want to say something like, not crazy tight! just firmly tight.
When all of your jars are ready, use the jar lifter to carefully place the jars into the hot water. I put a cloth in the bottom of the pot if I am too lazy to go out and find my canning kettle and this keeps the jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot. The water should cover the jars by 1-2”. Put the burner on high blast again.
When a gentle boil is reached, set your timer for 5 minutes. Set up your receiving area for the finished jelly–your most fetching clean dish cloth in an out of the way spot.
Use the lifter to bring them out, leaving a little space between the jars. They could be starting to clink already, signaling a true seal–one of the loveliest sounds of the harvest season in my opinion.
When they are fully cooled–giving them 24 hours is best–you may have composed a fitting title for these golden beauties. My current batches are: Avalanche (as in election) and First Snow. It’s good to date them, too, and leave them out for awhile where they get lots of attention.
fresh lemon juice to taste is an option
If you want to mull your own spice mix–cinnamon, allspice, clove, anise stars for example–into the cider, that’s lovely. It works to mull then let it sit for a bit, then whip the pectin in while it’s hot and carry on from there. Strain out the spices as you pour the liquid into the jars. Another tricky maneuver.
36 jars in my kitchen. I feel mighty proud!