Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Jelly Brained

Wheee! I have gone jelly-making mad!
Yesterday's wonderful adventure was Pear Jelly. Wonderfully clear, a beautiful amber colour. Of course, now I have run out of jam size jars - hopefully I will be able to get more before the crab apples and persimmons come ripe.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Feijoa Forays - It's Jelly, Baby.

For all my many, um, decades... (cough, cough - now I feel old!) of preserving, one area I haven't forayed into much is jelly. Loads of jam - jam up the wazoo! - but not much jelly. Mostly because trying to find a pan deep enough to hang the jelly bag in, or a place to hang it from to get a bowl underneath, was pretty much a no-go in my kitchen.
However, I have recently found someplace where I can get crab apples, which will be ready to pick in a couple of weeks, and my neighbour has a tree full of persimmons no-one else wants - both of these being premier jelly-making fruits - so I finally relented and bought a commercially made jelly bag. OMG, I wish I had relented years ago! Not that it would have done much good - things like this haven't been available here in NZ until recently, But Oh Mamma, it makes jelly-making a breeze!
It is not so much the bag itself, but the wonderful little stand it attaches to, that I'm over the moon about. A faaabulous (as the gay guy across the road says - yes he really does talk like that, but he does it on purpose - lol) sturdy little contraption, with folding legs, that has little hooky-type feet which enable it to sit perched over pretty much any bowl or pan.

It was while browsing the Mad Millie site that I saw the jelly bag. They are a wonderful little company specialising in preserving equipment and artisan food kits (cheese making and cider making particularly). It is only since they have come on the market that I have finally been able to upgrade my kitchen with all the hardware goodies to make my preserving life easier - having the right equipment really makes a difference. The jelly bag arrived yesterday afternoon by courier, so I figured I had better get some practice in, in preparation for the butt-load of jelly-making fruit that would soon overwhelm my kitchen.
Feijoa season is really short - it one of those fruits that all come ripe pretty much at the same time and goes rotten really fast - and it is coming to an end, but I figured there were probably a few stray late fruits on the driveway across the road, and on the pavement in front of the house at the end of the block, so off I toddled, in my fluffy purple socks and Heavy Metal hoodie, the urban forager.
Feijoas are quite tart, which make them great for jam, but they are very fiddly to do jam making with. The skin is high in pectin, but is quite bitter, so can't be left on for jam, which means careful peeling of a small, squishy fruit. And they really do need to be peeled rather than just cut and scooped out, to try to get as much of the fruit just under the skin as possible, for the pectin content. Did I mention  - fiddly? But for jelly they are perfect. Since no actual fruit is left after straining, the bitterness doesn't really come thru, the flavour is so much more intense - and of course the pectin content is thru the roof, so it sets beautifully. Just cut them in half, cover with water, and simmer. So easy! Then mash it with a potato masher, plop the whole mess in the jelly bag, and viola! a few hours later, a lovely bowl of syrupy-consistency juice. I am SO going to enjoy doing the persimmon and the crab apple jellies!

Feijoa Jelly

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Looneylocks and the 4 "Bears"

Well, here we are again. It has been a few weeks since my last entry.
Mum came to visit from Aussie for a week, and we had a great time.
We went over to Boutique Horse Treks at Clive - a sort of suburb of Napier - to collect some horse poop for my mushroom growing endeavour planned for spring. I don't have a car, so while Mum was here I took advantage of having someone around who could drive. The place is run by a lovely woman - who's name escapes me (sorry!). While we were there shovelling poop, she told us to help ourselves to the chestnuts on the ground in the next paddock - yum! Chestnuts! I love chestnuts, but they have been quite difficult (and expensive) to source over here. And while we were collecting the chestnuts, her delightful 80 year mother brought out a bag of pears for us.
We also ran around to a few other great places that I can't normally get to. The first was Ta Mata Figs, which grows a wide variety of wonderful, tasty figs, and also does a range of fig products, where we bought two of each kind of fig to try them all, and a fantastic jar of preserved figs, done in a spiced rosewater syrup. Wow!
The second was Arataki Honey, where they produce a wide range of different honeys and other bee related products. Who knew there were so many different kinds of honey? We got to try them all, and I fell in love with the Thyme honey. Apparently it is one of those things people either love or hate, and I definitely loved it! It has the most exotic, unique flavour, that sits in your mouth for a good 20 minutes after tasting. Of course it would be the most expensive one, but I have never seen it anywhere else around here, and I can't get up there without a car, so I went ahead and bought a small jar.
We also went on a bit of a shopping spree in town - mostly various goodies for my kitchen. I do love my kitchen! One of the things we got was a Mad Millie Home Preserving Kit - a water bath canner. So cool! I have wanted one of those for such a long time!  I have never done the water bath type preserving, as I was never able to get a big enough pan, or a rack-thing (cake rack would have been fine) that would fit the big stewing pot (which would only hold 3 jars) that I got a couple of years back. I have always used the hot pack/overflow method that seems to be pretty much the standard way in Aussie and NZ. But I do remember Mum doing the water bath preserving when I was very young (I was born in the U.S. where it is all done by water bath). And the Mad Millie Kit had everything you need in it - a huge pan, proper jar rack, wide-mouth funnel (cool, now I can throw out my heat-warped top-of-a-vinegar-bottle I have been using for that), jar lifter, tongs, jar wrench, and lid wand - all stuff I haven't seen over here in NZ before.
Being able to cold pack fruit for preserving rather than hot packing which always ends up with mushy fruit, and doing some of the other things (like long term storage for lemon and passion fruit curds, which will keep up to a year if processed in a water bath, but are too dodgy to try storing otherwise) was very appealing, plus it really is the best way to do tomatoes if you want to keep them whole.
So a couple of days after Mum went back to Aussie. I wandered back up to Bin Inn with my 'granny trolley', and bought a box of 6 x 1 litre jars. Since I have all those pears, and also a big bag of feijoas that we were given, lets give this water bath preserving a try, after all, I'm a preserving master, so it should be easy. Right?
Well, my first attempt with this type of preserving was a spectacular disaster.
I did 4 jars (2 of pears and 2 of feijoas). I had a "momma bear" a "poppa bear" and 2 "baby bears" - 1 had the ring screwed on too loose, one too tight , and 2 were 'just right' (those were the pears). The one that was too loose, I lost a third of the syrup - I'm assuming it boiled out into the water. The one that was too tight... well... the seal buckled and was quite 'domed', so I thought maybe I should loosen the band a little. Yup, I did, and yup, I now know that was not such a good idea! Like something out of 'The Exorcist', or maybe a fruity Yellowstone Park, the jar spewed it contents with gusto - onto the ceiling, the walls, the fridge behind me, covering the many jars and storage containers on the benches, with large chunks of hot feijoas finally coming to rest 'plop' on the floor. And I am definitely certain that the contents were well sterilized - I have a badly scalded hand to attest to that!
After standing stock still for a few moments - like a deer in headlights, staring blankly at the now half empty jar of feijoas while mentally digesting the shock of my fruit shower, I put on my best stoic face, studiously ignored the sticky mess, scraped off the squished lump of feijoa that had stuck to the bottom of my foot when I stepped back, put the jug on, and ran my hand under cold water while I waited for the jug to boil to make myself a cup of coffee. Then, still ignoring the mess, I went into the lounge with my nice comforting coffee, called Mum on Skype, and had a good whinge.
Now the race is on to see which heals faster - my burnt hand or my wounded pride (a preserving method that has bested me is a bit of an embarrassment). Ah well, we live and learn. I definitely won't do that again! I mean unscrewing the band - the water bath preserving I will persevere with. It's all part of the learning curve.
After finally cleaning up the mess in the kitchen, I resorted to the familiar, combined the two part jars of feijoas into a pan, and hot packed them with the overflow method into smaller jars.

The pears were done with cinnamon and cardamom, and the feijoas with cloves.