The locksmith eyed this birdfeeder and mentioned it might attract more bears than birds...oops.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Muscadine - Part TWO

Instructions for making Muscadine Preserves:

Come about the middle of September, start looking for a vineyard. They'll most likely be out from the city, in a small, country town. Bring cash and expect to pay around $8 or so for a gallon of muscadines. I got mine at Brown's in Union City. If you subscribe to the Ga. Farmers and Consumers Bulletin they'll have the local listings. (Be sure to wear proper shoes. I stepped in an ant hill wearing sandels.) Also, be aware that yellow jackets love muscadines and the warmer the day, the more activity you'll see.

As you look over the vines,  choose the dark muscadines. The unripe reddish ones won't 'pop' and will be sour. There may also be scuppernong vines, the bronze cousin of the muscadine. These taste very similar, but are a golden hue instead of the dark purple.

Once you get at least a gallon, go ahead and eat a few. You may want to get a few more for eating, after you make your preserves. We picked 5 gallons, which made 2.5 gallons of preserves. I haven't done the math to break it down but that's the ratio. This batch was 8 cups of pulps and skins after popping the grapes.

Now, you're going to need some equipment. Kmart or Walmart will do as they have a canning section in the Housewares dept. Get a funnel, a magnetic stick, a jar lifter, a  big ol'water bath pot, a ladle,  and a case of 8, 12, or 16 ounce canning jars. You'll also need some white sugar, some Ball low sugar pectin and a lemon. And a food sieve. You'll use these every time you make jelly, jam or preserves so it's a great investment. Lay out your tools and keep a wet cloth on hand to wipe the rims of the jars later on.

Sterilization is the key factor in making preserves. Just keep lots of pots of boiling water for everything you're using. A bit like birthing a baby back in the day.

 About an hour before you start, fill the water bath pot with water full enough to completely cover the jars. This is where you're going to sterilize the jars while you cook the preserves. Wash your jars and gently place them into the cool water to rest on the metal rack inside the pot. Turn the heat up and bring it to a boil and keep it boiling, with the lid on. It takes a while for it to boil, and it needs to stay at a hard boil.

Place the lids in a small pot of water and bring to a boil, and keep it simmering on the back burner. I also keep my ladle in this simmering water and sterlize the funnel.

 Wash your hands, wash the muscadines and start popping the pulp out of the skins.

  Place the pulps (with their many seeds) in a decent size pot and place the skins in a separate pot after running the skins through a whirl in a food processor to cut them up a bit. I used my nifty Ninja mixer and give it four hits.

You're going to want to add some water to the skins, so it's a loose mix and begin cooking them over medium to medium high heat. This will tenderize the skins. Cook them about 20 or so minutes until they turn a pale purple color and are tender to taste. They'll still taste sour, though.

While the skins are cooking, start cooking the pulp in a separate pot. If you have a lemon, add the juice of one lemon. I mash the pulp with a potato masher a bit, and cook them on medium to medium high heat until they are all melded together into a big pot of what eventually looks like green snot. This took about 30 minutes, give or take. Make sure you're stirring both pots often.
 Once the pulps have thoroughly broken down and released their seeds, you'll gently pour the pulps into an old-fashioned sieve. I found mine at a yard sale.  Turn the handle and the pulp will easily go down into a mixing bowl, leaving the seeds behind. I tried to do it without cooking the pulp, but it has to be cooked.

This is a good time to double check that your water bath pot is still boiling.

Now, take the cooked skins and drain off the liquid. Put the pulp into a large bowl and add enough skins to bring the total of pulp and skins to 8 cups. It will all be nice and purple. Put the 8 cups of jammy mix back into a pot and add 9 Tablespoons of Ball low sugar pectin and 2 cups of water. These measurements are precise and if you are cooking less than 8 cups, refer to the pectin package for directions.  Stir this constantly, and cook over medium high heat, bringing to a hard boil, one which you can't stir down. That means, when it comes to a full boil, big bursting bubbles, stir and if it stops bubbling, it isn't boiling enough. Once it boils and you can't stir it away, boil for one minute.

Then, add 3 cups of sugar. Bring to a hard boil again and boil one minute and then take the pot off of the heat.

(This very important time....when all your hard work has come to a pivotal moment, is when the phone will ring. Not once, but twice. It happens every time. Be prepared. When it happened to me today, I grabbed the phone, saw it was Mama and Daddy, hit the button and said, "Ican'ttalkmymuscadinesarealmostdoneI'llcallyourightbackohmygosh!" and hung up.)

Okay...this is the moment. Lift a hot jar out of the water bath pot with a jar grabber and dump the boiling water out of its middle back into the boiling water pot. Place this jar on a little plate next to your cooking jam pot.
Place the funnel inside the jar and ladle the hot preserves into the jar until you have 1/4 inch of room left. This is very important.  Not one inch, not 1/16 of an inch. One. Fourth.

Next, take that wet cloth, and carefully wipe off the rim to ensure there is NO muscadine on the rim. Be careful about this. It will affect the jar sealing and whether or not you give your friends botulism.  (We should take canning very seriously and follow the recommended canning directions from your local county extension agency. Please follow safe canning so we won't all die when we eat muscadine preserves or other jams.)

When you have that little 1/4 inch left, and the rim is wiped clean, then gently lift up a flat lid out of your simmering pot of lids, using that neat little magnetic stick.

Now, while holding the jar steady with a cloth in your hand (because it is HOT) screw on the band, that's been in the simmering water, and set it aside for a moment. Is your big water bath pot still boiling? Make sure it is.
Repeat these steps for the rest of the preserves. This recipe makes six 12-ounce jars, or nine 8-ounce jars or about four pints.

Once the jars are full and the lids are screwed on, carefully place each jar, with the jar grabber, onto the rack in the boiling water bath pot and put the lid on. They should be covered by an inch or two of boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes with the lid on the pot.  When they're done, take the lid off, turn off the heat and let them sit in the hot water for five minutes.

 Carefully remove the jars and let them sit on a counter, untouched, for about 12 hours. If the seal took correctly, you will hear a *POP* from each lid and you'll notice the lid is slightly concave in the middle. Do NOT push it down yourself. If it didn't seal, you can either repeat a water bath or place this jar in the frig for eating that week. The jar must seal properly for your jam/preserves/jelly to be safe to eat.

It's very satisfying to hear the little *pop* *pop* *pop* sounds coming from the kitchen.

There. You're all done. Was this a lot of trouble? Yes, Ma'am, it was. But all things of value come at a price, and your friends will know they are cherished when you give them a precious jar of your muscadine preserves.
Enjoy it on a hot, tender buttermilk biscuit and savor the taste of the South.

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