Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The "Food in Jars Mastery Challenge" - March: Shrubs and Jellies

Well, the March edition of the "Food in Jars" 2017 challenge is due today, so here we go!

The category for March was Jellies and Shrubs.  I've attempted to make plenty of jelly in the past, but always had trouble with it setting properly.  Family members of mine have received many jars of "syrup" that I hope was enjoyed over pancakes and ice cream.  Last fall, I learned from my wise mother-in-law that I was not letting my jam and jelly come to a full enough boil for long enough, so I was (finally) able to make some successful jam.

Then in January, as I was preparing for the marmalade challenge, some of my wise new friends in the "Food in Jars" group on Facebook told me about Pomona's Pectin and I am in love. I have always hated how much sugar goes into traditional jam and jelly recipes, and try to cut it down and in the past had used the Ball low sugar pectin.  And while it works fine after you learn that a "boil that doesn't stir out" means a really hot full boil that really actually doesn't stir out - I am now a Pomona's Pectin die hard. This stuff rocks.  My marmalade from January was amazing (if I can so modestly say), and in February I made some raspberry jam with some freezer raspberries we couldn't keep up with from our bushes last summer - also amazing (compared to the raspberry syrup I made during a prior attempt.)  It's so nice to be able to make things with less sugar and actually taste the fruit, while having it still be jel-ly as it should be.

This brings me to part #1 of 2 of the March challenge - the jelly. Since last summer, I'd been wanting to make some jalapeno jelly. One of my aunts had told me about her friend's jalapeno jelly and how they eat it on crackers with cream cheese and it's delicious.  Since we can quite a bit in the summer of the necessities like green beans, pickles, spaghetti sauce, salsa and more - and don't have air conditioning - the jalapeno jelly was dropped off my priority list.  Until the March challenge, that is!

For my March jelly project, I chose to make Pomona's Pectin recipe for "Jalapeno-Confetti Jelly."  I purchased the Kindle version of the Pomona's cookbook and I can't find the recipe on the Pomona's website, so I'm not sure if I should share it here. Basically it's a combination of sweet bell and jalapeno peppers, red wine vinegar, lime juice, sugar, tequila and Pomona's pectin.

While the peppers were cooking with the other ingredients, I made myself a margarita with some of my salt-preserved key limes from the February challenge.
It was dee-licous.


The jelly set really well, and since it was made in the middle of March I have used it as sauce on some Cuban pork sandwiches, a dipping sauce for some egg rolls, and just this week a dipping sauce for some pan-seared goose breast steaks that my husband made for us.  This stuff rocks, I could eat it on just about anything.

For part #2 of the challenge ... the shrubs. In February when I was first reading about the March challenge, I had to Google 'shrubs' because I didn't know what they were. They are otherwise called 'drinking vinegar,' and basically a 'sharp, tangy infusion of fruit, vinegar and sugar.' I wasn't too sure about it, but in the spirit of this challenge I decided to make something with raspberries (because even though I made jam in February, we still have a bunch more raspberries in our freezer from last summer.)  I also read about using champagne vinegar, which sounded good to me. What I ended up finding out is that champagne vinegar is not only hard to find, but expensive.  So, I settled on using a white prosecco vinegar I found on Jet.com, and some raspberries and rhubarb from the freezer.

I used Marisa's recipe for Black Raspberry Shrub as a guide.  I mixed about 5 cups of fruit with 4 cups of sugar, and mashed it all together and let it sit in the fridge for 3-4 days.  Then, I took it and put it through my grandma's applesauce masher thing.  I don't really know what it is called, but I know I used it with her when I was a little girl and we made applesauce.

I strained it all through here (see left), and unfortunately most of the raspberry seeds snuck through the holes. So, then I got out this small mesh strainer and strained it all through again (see below right.)


When this was done, I put the juice in a half-gallon mason jar, and added 3 cups of the prosecco white wine vinegar and about 1/2 cup of regular white wine vinegar and shook it all up.  I haven't actually had a drink yet with sparkling water and ice (and possibly vodka?) - but I tasted some with a spoon and am so pleasantly surprised at how good this tastes.

I will be honest, as I had my liquid gold mixture of strained raspberry/rhubarb/sugar juice, it was very hard for me to mix it with vinegar.  All I could think was that I was taking perfectly delicious fruit juice and mixing it with vinegar - and then I'm supposed to drink it?  But, there must be something about the combination ... because yum.  I think I will let it hang out fruit juice + vinegar for a couple days and mellow a bit, and then I will give it a real try.

Bonus to this challenge? I couldn't for the life of me find my half-gallon mason jar, so I ended up in the attic of my garage sorting through and organizing all of my empty mason jars and wine bottles.  Not only did I find a jar to use for my shrub, but all of my jars are now organized and ready for the upcoming canning season!