November 29, 2012

'Tis the season for pomegranate jelly

Jamming season may be over for most produce, but in California, pomegranate trees grow all over the place, both pink and red varieties, and their season has just barely ended, so if you have access to a tree and a fruit press, now's the time to make use of any leftover jars and lids from summer canning sessions. If given access to several trees, as my parents were, you can always freeze the juice for later use, like replenishing your stock of jelly in the pantry after many bread and scone baking sessions have depleted it, or, you know, for gifting over the holidays. Homemade gifts from the kitchen make for thoughtful presents.
If you're new to canning, I would advise enlisting another pair of hands to help out with the entire process. Preserving may seem daunting at first, but when you follow proper guidelines and share the workload with another person, it's well worth the effort and doesn't seem like nearly as much work. My dad and I teamed up to make several batches of jelly over the last month or two. Of course, he did all the preliminary work of pressing the pomegranates on a borrowed hand-crank press, so that when we actually did the canning, the juice was ready and waiting. Yes, canning goes much more smoothly with help.

Back in the day my mom used to make blackberry jam, for we live in an area where blackberry bushes abound as well as pomegranate trees, and, although her jamming days are over (mostly because she tired of doing it all herself), she fortunately hung on to her canner, basically a large enamel pot with lid and metal rack. She did not have a lid lifter or jar tongs, but I would consider those items very useful, even essential, as they make the job of lifting jars in and out of hot water and pulling lids and rings out of hot water flow much more smoothly than if you didn't have them. They're fairly inexpensive, too, often sold in sets with a funnel, also an essential, so it's a small investment for a really helpful payoff.
To get the pomegranates ready for pressing, slice off the flower ends and cut in half, then pile into the press and get cranking, which, as it happens, requires considerable manpower. You'll need a large jug or measuring cup with a wide mouth to catch all the juice. Then, to strain the pomegranate juice, line a sieve with cheesecloth to make sure the juice is really pure and clear. We strained the juice into quart sized plastic jars for freezing. Otherwise, use it immediately.

To get ready for the actual canning, I like to set up a work area next to the stove by lining a large, rimmed baking sheet with an old dishtowel (an old one because staining is inevitable) and placing the essentials at the ready: a ladle, funnel, jar tongues, and lid lifter. Hot jars can crack when placed on a cool counter, so using a dishtowel buffers any temperature differences. Everything needs to be ready before you start cooking because all of your attention will be on the jelly once it begins to boil. For my dad and I, we've set up a pretty good workflow by delegating tasks: I lift the sterilized jars and lids and rings out of the hot water and place them on the baking sheet one at a time, then he ladles the jelly into the jars, wipes the rims clean, and tightens the lids, and then finally I place the prepared jars back into the canner for processing. After all that, the jars need to cool undisturbed for several hours. They shouldn't be stacked when cooling--I just did that for picture taking purposes.

As for the jelly itself, it's a pretty, deep red color, a little sweet, a little tart, and best spread on homemade whole wheat bread warm from the oven slathered with butter. Snacking doesn't get much better than that on a rainy afternoon.

Pomegranate jelly
Adapted from

-Red pomegranates make better jelly than pink because the pink are far too sweet and would require very little sugar, meaning the jelly would not set--believe me, we've tried. Since the red are more tart, you can adjust the amount of sugar to your taste. We prefer jams and jellies that aren't too sweet, so this recipe makes a sweet-tart jelly, made with a little less sugar than what is fairly typical in canning.
-If you want to make a lot, don't try to double the recipe. Jelly is best made in small batches. Otherwise, it might not set properly.
-For beginners, this step-by-step guideline on water bath canning is a good reference, as is Food In Jars.

6 cups freshly pressed and strained pomegranate juice
4½ cups granulated sugar, divided
4½ Tbsp. (1½ packets) no-sugar pectin
¼ cup lemon juice

Equipment: Canner with metal rack; 8 oz. glass canning jars, new lids, and rings; jar tongs, funnel, ladle, and lid lifter.

First, wash jars, lids, and rings in hot, soapy water, then place jars in a canner with a rack and fill with enough tap water to cover the jars by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 10 minutes. Keep hot until ready to use. Place lids and rings in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a simmer over medium heat; do not boil. Keep warm until ready to use.

Next, mix the pectin with ¼ cup of the sugar in a small bowl. Place pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and the pectin mixture in a large pot, and bring to a full, roiling boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching. This will take several minutes. Stir in the remaining sugar, bring back to a full boil, and boil hard for one minute. Remove from heat.

Ladle jelly into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch of room at the top. Wipe rims with a damp towel, place lids on top, and screw on rings to a fingertip tightness. Place jars back in canner and bring to a boil. Process for 10 minutes. Allow jars to sit in canner for a couple of minutes after processing, then remove and place on a dishtowel-lined counter to cool completely. Once cool, tighten rings and check seals. If any have not sealed, store in the fridge. Otherwise, store sealed jars for up to a year in a cool, dark place.

Makes about 8 pint jars.

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