This end of summer and early fall weather is exquisite—warm, breezy days, blue skies, a crisp feel to the air—and beckons us to take some of the back roads around our beautiful bluff country.
Such a day was last Sunday and our back road explorations led to a lovely old orchard, Domaine Da Vine, on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi near Bay City. It has recently sold and the new owners renamed it Swede Pickings.
There we wandered through mixed orchards and a vineyard and picked a variety of apples, pears and grapes of many varieties—most of them with unusual and old-fashioned names we had not heard. The orchards are not sprayed or treated, so some of the fruit has spots—but they were not bad and I like the unsprayed fruit. You can cut out any spots that bother you.
Of course I came home with bags and bags of eating apples, pie apples and crabs (for jelly), as well as many pears and two varieties of grapes. Now, again, I have a porchful of produce to process.
Last year I found Concord grapes at the same farm, but the owners were not home and someone was helping out. Grapes were all picked and at the end of their season—I purchased the two pounds they had and made spiced grape butter—it was delicious. This year, with more grapes and some good instructions, I am making grape jelly.
Some of you probably know that grapes contain tartaric acid which causes crystallization in jelly. To remove the tartrate crystals, you must let the juice stand in the refrigerator overnight, then pour the juice through a paper coffee filter or 3 layers of dampened cheesecloth to leave the sediment behind.
How to make grape juice:
Place washed grapes (stems removed) in nonreactive saucepan. Add ½ cup of water per pound of grapes (1 pound is about 3 cups). Crush grapes with potato masher. Heat for 5 minutes at medium heat (do not boil). Crush again, and cook 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until skins lose much of their color. Strain through several layers of dampened cheesecloth or paper coffee filters. Do not squeeze—let drip. You should get about 1 ½ cups of juice from each pound of grapes.
No-Cook Grape Jelly
3 half-pint canning jars, with bands and clean lids; or plastic freezer container
1 ½ cups grape juice (let juice stand overnight in refrigerator and strain before using; see above.)
2 ½ cups sugar
Half of a 1.75-ounce box powdered pectin1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. water
Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water. Combine juice and sugar in glass or Pyrex mixing bowl, stirring to dissolve sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. In small saucepan, combine pectin and water; stir well (mixture may be lumpy). Heat to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Cook at a rolling boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour pectin mixture into juice in bowl. Stir constantly with wooden spoon until sugar is completely dissolved and no longer grainy, about 3 minutes; a few grains may remain, but the mixture should no longer look cloudy (or the jelly will be cloudy).
Pour mixture into prepared jars or containers, leaving ½ inch headspace; cover with clean lids. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours; the jelly should be set. If it is not set, refrigerate for several days until set before using or freezing; grape jelly may take as long as a week to set. The jelly will keep for 3 weeks in the refrigerator, or it may be frozen for up to a year
The pears are so good to eat out-of-hand, I’m not sure that we’ll have a lot left to process when I get to them. They were a bit under-ripe, so I can leave on the deck for a few days.
Pear Muffins (12 muffins)
2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup (half a stick) butter
1 cup finely diced pears (peeled, cored and diced before measuring)
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Heat oven to 425. Spray 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray; set aside. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in sifter or wire-mesh strainer; sift into large mixing bowl. (Or stir with a wire whisk). In another bowl, stir together milk, egg and butter. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients; stir until just moistened (batter should still be lumpy). Add pears and nuts; mix together gently. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling 2/3 full. Bake until tops are browned and center springs back, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from pan immediately; cool to warm room temperature before serving. Best served warm.
3 half-pint canning jars, with bands and new lids
1 cup finely chopped pears (peeled, cored and chopped before measuring)
1 cup finely chopped apples (peeled, cored and chopped before measuring)
Half of a 1.75-ounce box powdered pectin
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. cinnamon
3 cups sugar
Prepare jars, by sterilizing in boiling water for 10 minutes; lids and bands by simmering for 10 minutes. In heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan, combine pears, apples, pectin, lemon juice and cinnamon. Heat to full, rolling boil that can’t be stirred down, stirring constantly. Add sugar. Return to a full, rolling boil; cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir for about a minute. Ladle into prepared jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Seal with prepared lids and bands. Process in boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
If you want an early start on edible gifts for the holidays, now’s the time. It has been so warm it was hard to think of Christmas and holiday time, but at last the weather is changing. We took our favorite local trip around Lake Pepin on Sunday and found a place where there are still local fruits to pick and preserve and add to my grape butter for a beautiful offering. Spiced apple jelly tinted to a rosy clear color will be a great addition and a smooth lemon curd is always welcome. I decided to add a concoction from a new book on my shelf, Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Topp and Howard: Kiwifruit Honey Almond Conserve. Purple, rose pink, yellow and emerald—now for a sparkling bright red. I looked for a change in flavor, too, and found Cranberry Hot Pepper Jelly—a great gift for making the easy appetizer with cream cheese on crackers or to accompany a holiday roast or bird. This rounds out a beautiful gift for somebody and you can step it up a notch by adding homemade or store bought crackers, breads, breadsticks and some cheeses.
Grapes usually require slipping the skins, so I thought that would be very time consuming, but I found slipping the skins less difficult than I thought. If you make a slight cut at the stem end and squeeze from the other end, the grape pops right out, Since you use the skins in the recipe later any pulp that clings to the skin goes into the final mixture. The result surprised me. It thickened nicely (grapes do have quite a bit of pectin) and was delicious. But best of all, it was a beautiful jewel-like purple color. It would make a wonderful companion for my gift baskets for Christmas.
Spiced Grape Butter
1 ½ pounds stemmed Concord grapes
1 Tbsp. grated orange peel
1 cup water
2 ¼ cups sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. cloves
Wash grapes; separate skins from pulp. Cook pulp until soft. Sieve to remove seeds. Add peel and water; cook 10 minutes. Add grape skins; heat to boiling; add sugar and spices; cook until thick. Seal in hot, sterilized glasses. Makes six 6-oz glasses.
Directions from Red Wing: Cross bridge on Hwy 63; turn right on highway 35. Proceed south 1.7 miles, turn left on County C. Proceed .5 miles, turn right on 170thstreet. Go up the hill to the left, .7 miles. Turn right at the Swede Pickings sign. Proceed .5 miles through the fence to the farm.
Cell phone 763-300-8659
Apple or Crabapple Jelly
Wash fruit; do not pare or core. Cut in eighths, removing blemishes. Barely cover with water; simmer until soft. Strain through jelly bag. Measure juice; heat to boiling; skim and add ¾ cup sugar for each cup juice. Stir until sugar dissolves; cook until syrup sheets off spoon. Add red food coloring until a light rose color is achieved. Seal in hot sterilized glasses. Rose, geranium, mint or other leaves may be used for flavoring.
Kiwifruit Honey Almond Conserve
1 ½ cups diced, peeled kiwifruit
1 cup diced, peeled and cored apple
¼ cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup liquid honey
½ cup raisins
½ cup sliced almonds
1 Tbsp. Amaretto liqueur (optional)
Place kiwifruit and apple in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Remove thin outer rind from lemon with vegetable peeler and cut into fine strips with scissors or sharp knife; or use a zester and add to saucepan. Remove and discard the remaining white rind. Finely chop the pulp with a knife or in a food processor with on/off motion. Add pulp and water to saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat and boil gently for 20 minutes or until fruit is tender. Stir in sugar, honey and raisins. Return to a boil, reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, until mixture will form a light gel, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in nuts and liqueur (if using). Ladle into hot sterilized jars and process for 10 minutes.
Makes 3 cups
Cranberry Hot Pepper Jelly
1 large sweet red pepper
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded or other hot pepper
¼ cup water
¾ cup cider vinegar
¾ cup frozen cranberry cocktail concentrate, thawed
3 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid fruit pectin
Finely chip sweet and jalapeno peppers in food processor. Place in a small saucepan with water and vinegar. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes. Strain mixture through a coarse sieve, pressing with back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Pour liquid through a jelly bag. Place strained liquid, cranberry concentrate and sugar in a medium, nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a full boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin, return to a full boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Lade into hot, sterilized jars and process for 10 minutes. Makes 3 cups.