Tag Archives: Canning

Ambrosia from the Orchard

One bowl, about a third of the total harvest. These are "Smyrna" quinces.

Last year’s quince harvest was lame–a singular fruit that I think I forgot about in the depths of the fridge. In the linked post, I was bemoaning the lack of quince while still dealing with the remaining jars of “not quite jelly” from the 2009 harvest. This year’s was more like the one in 2009, giving some credence to the “every-other-year” theory of fruit production.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have to deal with three huge bowls of quinces this weekend, but I also didn’t want to watch the fruit drop to the ground and get eaten and stomped to mush by the deer. We already lost a bunch of apples that way, and I didn’t want that to happen to this precious fruit.

It used to be every orchard had a quince tree, but the fruit has gone out of favor. I’ve seen small quantities of PCC in the fall, but it’s never available out of season. The rise of commercial pectin has made making jelly extremely easy and the humble quince unnecessary for the process. Before “Sure-Jell” and “Pomona’s Pectin” the home jelly maker had to rely upon quince or very long hours of cooking to make jelly. A quince or two in the jelly pot would provide enough jell-factor for just about any fruit. And still does, but who needs a quince when you have a sure-fire way of making jelly without it?

According to mythology, the quince was a gift from Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Thus quinces are widely represented in Greek paintings and mosaics as a symbol of commitment and fertility. An Athenian wedding tradition called for friends and family to toss quinces into the bridal chariot after a wedding. Some scholars even believe that quince may have been the “forbidden fruit” that Eve fed to Adam.

After washing, the fruit is cut into chunks and put into a big pot to cook until soft.

A number of people have told me they’ve never had quince before. I thought, “I’ll make a bunch of jelly and put it in small jars so I can let more people taste this stuff. I’ll make converts. People will rise up and demand quince trees all over the world!” Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find 8oz jars at the store! Seriously? I am pretty sure people do not want a quart of any kind of jelly, no matter how delicious. I went through my stock and found about a dozen 1/2pt jars and eventually ended up ordering more online. Turns out that the best place to get canning jars is Ace Hardware.

I have more than five gallons of quince juice from two different trees. I’ll put at least half of that into jelly–made the old-fashioned “add sugar and cook for a long time” method. The other half will stay in the freezer and be turned into the Persian drink I mentioned in the blog post linked at top. I finished cooking the last batch of fruit just a little while ago, and the heady scent fills the house in a most delicious way.

The juice is strained and then cooked in small, four cup batches, to make jelly. I use about 3/4 C sugar per cup of juice and take it to 219 degrees F. It's about half an hour of standing and stirring.


The jelly is poured into hot, clean jars and left to seal.


The final color of the jelly is magical. The fruit is yellow, gets brownish when it oxidizes, and then turns into a lovely jewel.

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Pickle Party 2011

Fifty pounds of cucumbers doesn't really look like that much in a box like this.

I was at the produce section looking for bananas when I felt compelled to pick up a couple of pickling cucumbers the produce guy, P.J., had just put out. I rolled the cool bumpy veggies in my hand, thinking over the sagacity of getting into a canning project. P.J. must have seen the look on my face–something between longing and desire?–and made me an offer on a case I couldn’t refuse. The price was substantially lower, per pound, than that of the regular retail and the notion of getting an entire case of cucumbers was appealing to me at some deep spiritual, domestic goddess level. I make jam, jelly, and pickles; I am woman!

I am, however, also experienced enough in the realm of pickle making to know that I would be a complete idiot to attempt the task by myself. Besides, canning and preserving parties are a great way to get together and have fun with others to accomplish what could be a rather odious chore if done solo. I put a note on Facebook about my idea and had several people interested. When the day arrived, there were enough of us to make the work fun and enjoyable even if tiring. The term “Crazy Cooking Project” was more than just bandied about.

We talked a bit about the irony that we weren’t really saving money by our efforts. A jar of dill pickles from the store doesn’t cost all that much. The certainty of what is in the jars–fresh local cucumbers, onion and garlic from my own garden, dill from a local farmer’s market, grape leaves from the arbor just outside my back door–plus the inherent feeling of accomplishment at making them ourselves is what seems to spur us on. Besides, the variety of what we created is different than what the store offers. I’d never heard of “Dutch Lunch Pickles” until M. found the recipe in “The Joy of Pickling.”

Pickling, canning and preserving are home-based arts that have become less survival driven necessities and more pleasure arts/crafts. Like sewing and knitting, other skills that were practically required to survive in years gone by, canning has become an optional luxury. It’s almost impossible to make a skirt for less than what you can buy one for at Target. Knitting a sweater costs way more than picking one up at Costco. The difference of course, is about quality and style and the sense of accomplishment. Being able to say “I made this” in a world of mass-produced goods and where people are losing the skill to make almost anything feels pretty damn good.

For me, though, the best part about the pickle party was that it really was a party. Being an “at-home” mom who spends most of my time at home by myself, the day of working with others not my spouse and not my kids was….fun. Really fun. Call ’em “Crazy Cooking Projects” if you want, but bring them on just the same!

At the end of the day, those chairs felt great.

After six hours of pretty much non-stop labor, we ended up with:
12 pints Garlic Dills
10 pints “Dutch Lunch Pickles”
12 pints sweet and sour gherkin style
6 pints sweet and spicy with red pepper and garlic
10 pints “Dutch Lunch, no garlic”
12 Quarts straight dill

Sorted and grouped by size.

We quartered and brined about 25 pounds.

Jars filled with cukes, spices and brine, ready to seal.

Some genius solved the hot water/picking up the jar lids with a magnet and a stick. I almost cried with joy.

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