September cottonwood, Canyon Lake, 2008
Fall is galloping in on all sides up here, no doubt about it. We are digging out the recipes for canning and preserving fruit as the crop peaks and starts to diminish. These are the recipes that keep summer with us in the cold months. The wild plums, those that survived the hail, are positively shimmering, and the apples are ripening nicely. It may be a week until the equinox, but up here fall is in full force, never mind the calendar.
Migration is also in full force. Gene starts his fall hawk watch on Dinosaur Hill this week. The chipmunks and squirrels are agitated, seeking and carrying off as much food as they can. We got into a long discussion on Friday about hibernation and torpor. The little mammals have to conserve their energy in the cold months for all they're worth. As the light wanes, they race around to get ready for the long--but hopefully not final--sleep.
We'll get the fruit canning fully under way next weekend. It's a bit of a hassle now, but the jewel tones of the preserves in December will be all the more worth it.
The raspberries are at their peak or just slightly past it right now. Raspberries do particularly well in freezer preparations, as opposed to boiling-water canning baths which tend to destroy their delicate texture. Here are two recipes for that.
Raspberry freezer jam
3 cups raspberries, cleaned and picked over
5¼ cups sugar
2 T lemon juice
1 pkg. Sure Jell fruit pectin
¾ cup water
Put raspberries into a large bowl and crush fruit lightly with a fork or potato masher. Add sugar and lemon juice. Set aside to allow sugar to dissolve with fruit for 10 minutes. Place the pectin and water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute until mixture turns clear. Pour over the raspberries and stir well for about 3 minutes. Immediately spoon into clean clear plastic containers, leaving ½" headspace. Seal with lids and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Freeze for up to 1 year. May be refrigerated for up to 1 month.
Red raspberry preserves4 cups whole raspberries
Juice of 1 lemon
4 cups sugar
Place raspberries in kettle with sugar and lemon. Bring slowly to a boil over low heat, shaking all the while. Do not stir. Continue shaking pan and boiling for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand overnight. Freeze. Yield: 7 half-pints.
This is a Pennsylvania Dutch classic from Gene. "Smidge" is a great word. Interpret this amount as you will. Use the lowest possible heat and let it go as long as needed--this is ideal for a slow cooker, too. We have used this with the small wild apples up here with terrific results. This is the taste of fall. The fruit does not have to be perfect for this--we actually get our best results from the fruit on the ground.
For ½ peach basket of apples, peel, quarter and core apples. Put in oven at 200*. Add ½ lb dark brown sugar, 1 T cinnamon, ½ tsp allspice, smidge of clove (ground) or 1 whole clove. Allow to cook down. If not peeled, run it through a food mill. Let cook all day or longer.
--Gene K. Hess
Wild plum jelly
For wild plum jelly, I can't improve much on the slightly terse directions left to us by Gran Brooks. Plums are, or should be, loaded with natural pectin, though last year's needed a bit of pectin added. It was either that, or enjoy wild plum syrup all winter. If you are using wild fruit, I recommend simmering the whole fruit in a stockpot and then pressing it through a sieve to separate the juice from the pits and skins. Ignore any recipe directions that call for halving and pitting--these are tiny. Simmer the whole plums in batches of about 2 lb. Press the juice through a clean cotton jelly bag for greater clarity. For 5 lb. of juice, use 7 to 7 1/2 cups of sugar, and simmer for at least half an hour. Test the jelly on a chilled plate--if it does not set up promptly, add a little more pectin and keep stirring, simmering, testing and tweaking until you get there. You'll know it when you see it--it goes from a thick liquid to a soft jelly in a matter of seconds when it hits the chilled plate. It's magic. Wild fruits vary so much in sugar and pectin content, depending on the year and the weather, amount of rain, etc., that it's hard to give mathematically exact instructions. Follow standard canning directions. Wild plum jelly has an especially lovely color that shines out in Christmas gift baskets. The unsugared juice can also be the base for a great homemade wine. Or so I'm told.
Crabapples are falling all over the place right now. You can save and pickle them for a great side dish for the holidays. This is a very easy recipe with a great texture. The crabapples are preserved whole with no preparation other than a few tiny skin punctures (optional); you even get to leave the stems on. We have used any leftover syrup as a base for sweet-sour recipes of all kinds. It's that good. You can put the spices in a small muslin bag if you like.
Spiced crabapples3 cups apple cider vinegar
4-5 cups brown sugar
1 t whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
4 pounds crab apples
Rinse but leave stems on crab apples. Do not peel, though you may wish to poke the skins with a small fork tine in 3 or 4 places to make sure that the syrup sets all the way through. Boil vinegar, brown sugar, cloves, and cinnamon together. Mix the spiced vinegar and sugar and returrn to a boil. Add crabapples to syrup and boil until apples are tender. Remove the fruit with slotted spoon and pack into hot sterilized jars. Pour in syrup. Seal. This recipe can be doubled.
Happy Monday, happy fall.