Sep 30, 2013

How to Make Muscadine Jelly

Canning is simple in that it requires few ingredients; however recipes must be followed exactly to prevent spoilage. Do not alter ingredients and keep everything clean and hot. Last year, I read a couple of books on canning to learn how to do it safely and correctly.  I recommend, "You Can Can" by Better Homes and Gardens. Equipped with the fundamentals and the right tools all my hesitations disappeared. I actually became excited about all the foods I could preserve and enjoy all year long. After a few strategic shopping trips to the local farmer's market, I spent a couple of weekends and canned fresh corn salsa, peach jam, peach salsa, blueberry chutney, stewed tomatoes, pickled vidalia onions with peppers, and peach vanilla honey butter. My family is still enjoying the bounty I canned last year.

After going to a muscadine farm and picking a basket full of muscadines, I knew I wanted to take the time to make and preserve some jelly. You can learn more about my kids adventure on the farm and tasting this southern fruit for the first time in an earlier post.

I was exposed to canning in early childhood. I grew up watching my beloved and talented grandmother, who passed away earlier this year, can jelly throughout the year.   She taught me how to make homemade biscuits, which were always a perfect canvas for her homemade jellies and jams. While she made a variety of flavors, muscadine was by far the most coveted. I assume because she only made it in small batches once a year. I will not mention any names, but family feuds have occurred over this flavor jelly. In honor of the many cases of jelly she made for our family over the years, I carved out a couple of hours and made 2 batches for my family to savor and enjoy.

5lbs of Muscadines (firm but ripe) or 5 cups of juice
7 cups sugar
1box plus 1/2 box of pectin (used to make the fruit juice gel) such as (SURE JELL 1.75 oz)

8 8-ounce jelly canning jars and lids
A boiling water canner
Strainer or cheesecloth plus bowl to capture juice
A large pot
A ladle
Potato masher
Measuring cups
Jar lifter
Jar funnel
Lid lifter (optional, tongs can be used)

 Prepare jars and lids by sterilizing them in hot water bath. Prepare the fruit by carefully washing and removing stems and bruised fruit. Heat fruit to boiling in a large pot to release the juices. Use a
potato masher to aid the juicing process. Reduce and simmer for 10 minutes and stir to prevent burning.

To remove skins, seeds, and any other solids from the juice gently press the fruit through the strainer or allow to rest and drain through a cheesecloth.  When using a strainer and applying pressure, you will need to repeat the process multiple times to remove excess pulp. With the pulp, your jelly will not appear clear once preserved in the jars.  Since I did not have cheesecloth, I processed the juice through the strainer 3 times. Cheesecloths are very effective, but they require hours of resting for all the juice to pass through.

Return strained juice to the large pot and bring to a boil. Add box of pectin plus 1/4-1/2 of another box and stir to combine. Bring back to rapid boil. Add sugar 1 cup at time to help it dissolve and avoid clumping. Boil hard until foam occurs.  Skim off foam.

Pectin Tip: Muscadines do not have as much natural pectin as some other fruits so I added another 1/2 box to achieve the thickness or body I prefer. To test the level of body or jelly formed with the juice mixture, place a spoon in the freezer for a few minutes.  Dip it into your juice mixture and allow to sit at room temperature for a couple of minutes.  Start with 1 box. If you would like a thicker jelly add more pectin 1/4 portions at a time.

Remove jars from the hot water canner one at a time to ensure they remain hot. Ladle jelly into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims, and apply lids.  Process the filled jars in the boiling water canner for 5 minutes (Timing does not start until the water is at a rapid boil).  I keep a separate pot of hot water on the side just in case I need to add more water to ensure there is at least 2" of water above the jars. This also reduces the time required to bring water back to a full boil.

Remove jars from canner and place on cooling rack or towel.  You may hear the jar lids pop and seal soon after they are removed.  Allow to rest overnight and test the lids by pressing gently in the center.  If it does not pop back up, then you have achieved the proper and safe seal for shelf storage.  If the center lid pops up when pressed, place that jar in the refrigerator.

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