I get nostalgic this time of year. I’m also up to my chin in potential canning projects. This is a repost of one of my favorite posts on canning. Hope you enjoy it!
I am making a batch of crabapple jelly. It’s always been amazing to me that a bunch of sour little non-apples could make such a tart-sweet rose-colored jewel of a jelly.
With crabapples the pectin is in the crabapples, so all you need to do is add cane sugar to taste and simmer away. I like mine a bit on the tart side, but that’s part of the magic of canning. You can make it the way you like it.
While I’m simmering the strained juice, it goes through a transformation. It starts out thin and cloudy, but as it’s heated and the sugar is added, foam from impurities comes to the surface and is skimmed off, the color deepens and clears, and the hot liquid thickens.
I check for sheeting by holding up a cold spoon that has been quickly dipped in the hot liquid. It’s not ready yet, but almost. The drops still run off the spoon singly, and I wait for that magic moment when the pectin in the apples and the sugar combine to transform the liquid into a potential gel, or the time when the drops run off the side of the spoon in a collection of drops.
Chemically, bonds will be broken by heat and rearranged so that a new structure is formed. As I pour the hot liquid into the canning jars, it still looks like liquid, but when it cools, and sometimes only after a few days, it will gel.
Depending on how carefully I watch it, and when I choose to take the cauldron off the fire . . . oops — I mean the pot off the stove . . . the final jelly may set tenderly, or too stiff, or maybe just right.
Then I wait and see. Did I cook it too long? Did I undercook it? The results are not always predictable, even with two nearly exact batches from the same bushel of fruit.
The marriage of the sour crabbies and the sugar always seems to equal more than the sum of the two parts. Even if it didn’t jell at all, the syrup formed through the alchemy of the heat (the catalyst) transforms the flavor in a way that wouldn’t occur otherwise.
Change IS magic. Change is uncomfortable. Change is amazing. Change is incredibly hard. We’ve all been in the cauldron of Change, heated over a fire of our own making. Some of us do whatever we can to escape the uncomfortable, while others seek it out, knowing that there is not sweet without sour.
An the end of each transformation in our lives, we will be in a new place. Somewhere we couldn’t get to before we spent our time simmering over the heat. Alchemy, the process of transmuting a common substance or substances into a substance of great value, will ensure that the effort is worth it. We’ll be more than the transformation of our parts.