Harvesting natures bounty is one of my passions, and each year nature has its cycles of abundance to offer. Right now Oregon grapes are at their best, providing opportunity to make my favorite jelly, using a low sugar method with Pomona’s Universal Fruit Pectin. Here is the ingredients and procedure I use:
4 cups Oregon Grapes, clean and ripe
1 x 2.84 liter Organic Apple Cider, available at Lifestyle Markets
1 box Pomona’s Universal Pectin, use 4 tsp Calcium Water, and 4 tsp Pectin Powder
1-2 cups Turbinado Sugar or Berry Sugar, available at Lifestyle Market
16 x 125 ml Canning Jars (with lids and labels)
1 Canning Funnel, bottom fits neatly into mouth of canning jars, minimizes spillage
Stainless steel tongs
First, find your own secret patch of Oregon grapes: they are an indigenous plant, and drought hardy. However, with an increasing awareness of benefits of using native plants in landscapes, gardeners are using them more frequently to create intentional nature-scapes. This means the plants can be found in abundance even in our city environment, where they have more reliable access to water from irrigation systems. I have found the berries are most prolific when best when the plants have 3/4 full sun, and are well hydrated.
Once you’ve found a good spot, set aside some time to pick, and be sure to wear long sleeves or a nylon jacket, as the leaves are similar to holly leaves, and will catch on natural fibers and scratch bare skin. This recipe requires four cups of berries, and at a good patch, this should only take 10-12 minutes to collect. The berries hang in great bunches like grapes, and will pop off when you pull your cupped hand down along the length of the bunch. Bring your kids or a friend, and have each of you carry a smaller tub which can be poured into one larger bag or bucket, and you will be done quickly! The berry juice is very dark, and will stain. Once you get them home, pour them out onto a cookie sheet or tray with raised edges, and sort out any stones or sticks, removing all shriveled or moldy berries. They will keep for quite some time in the fridge, though I recommend making the jelly with freshest berries possible.
When you are ready to make the jelly, set up a sterilization bath for the canning jars: fill a wide bottomed shallow pan half full with water and set over medium heat. Unpack the small canning jars, as set on counter beside stove. Once jelly juice has been prepared, use this water bath to sterilize the jars and lids, 2 or 3 jars at a time. Each jar and lid needs to be in the hot water at least a full minute before use.
Meanwhile, mix the calcium water as directed on Pomona’s package and set aside. Pour the apple cider into a large soup pot: add the berries and 4 tsp Calcium water, and bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat and use a silicon spatula to mash the cooked berries through a fine mesh sieve to pop them open and squeeze out all their dark juices. Remove all pulp and seeds from the juice by pouring through fine mesh sieve, then pour juice back into large pot, and bring to a simmer. Mix the 1-2 cups sugar with 4 tsp. Pectin Powder, then sprinkle over the juice one tsp at a time, whisking well between additions. This can be a tricky point, as the pectin may not dissolve quickly: don’t give up, keep whisking! It may take 5-8 minutes to get it all dissolved and lump free.
Now your juice is ready to be canned: crank up the heat in the water bath, and to make sure first batch of jars is thoroughly sterilized, rotate a couple times. Use tongs to pull first jar from water, tipping it upside down at an angle to drain, then place onto a small plate. Place canning funnel on top of jar, pour jelly juice into jar until it reaches just below the bottom edge of jar rim, (about 3/4-1 inch from top) then screw on lid and gently finger tighten. Lift jar off plate, transfer to cooling rack, and let cool. Repeat until all juice is canned: let jars stand at room temperature until cooled, and listen for lids popping as they seal!
Write the name of your creation and the date on some canning jar labels, and affix to the jars. Check that lids are as tight as possible, and if any of the lids didn’t pop, store those jars in the fridge to use first. The rest will keep for years at room temperature. Enjoy your jelly as you would any jam or jelly: however, it is much less sweet than usual, and may be use for savory foods as well. Try adding a couple tablespoons to gravy, especially stronger flavored and gamier roasts such as lamb, turkey, duck or bison.
Find out more, visit: http://agardenerstable.com/2010/08/26/the-oregon-grape/