It’s that time of the year again where instinctively I feel that I must start canning and jamming to ward off the impending winter’s doom. I don’t know why, but I do know that if I don’t, a general feeling of unease inhabits my kitchen for most of the winter until I can make things right in January with a batch of marmalade.
I spend two or three mornings in the kitchen to stock it with salsa, chutney and jam, lots of jam, because in case of an apocalypse, I’d miss not having jam. I sometimes grumble when I’d rather be doing something else on a warm September morning but the actual prep and cooking are not difficult. I tend to be a bit lazy when I know that warm sunny days are soon to end. Yet, my time in the kitchen is nothing compared to what settler women must have faced. They had to preserve as much as they could in crude conditions to fend off not only a cold winter, but also to ensure their families’ survival. There were no twenty-four grocery stores or neighborhood take out. We take so much for granted in our modern, convenience filled lives. It would be easier and less expensive to buy a jars of mass produced condiments, but my stuff always tastes better, and It’s important to me that I keep traditional food ways alive, so I’m making apple jelly.
Jams and Jellies were considered luxuries by early pioneer families; sugar was too expensive and not easily available in the back woods. However, in Canada around the mid-1800’s, both the price and supply was more stable, and recipes for both jams and jellies started to appear in cookbooks and other books such as Mrs Traill’s Guide. Her recipe is straight forward but like all recipes of the time, it assumes that the cook has the knowledge to fill in the gaps such as the cooking time and how to fill or “pot” the jars. While this is a recipe intended for the “emigrant pioneer wife,” the addition of the spices and possibly the saffron makes this recipe more cosmopolitan then country. It is a good read though and I love her language, very formal and to the point.
“Apple Jellies-Allow a pound of crushed sugar (this is an inferior sort of loaf sugar, which sells for 6d. a pound) to a pound of chopped apples, boil the sugar to a syrup, with a few cloves and a stick of cinnamon; throw in the apples, and boil till the fruit is dissolved. If you wished to have it coloured, add in, while boiling, a slice or two of blood beet; this will give a beautiful rich tint to the jelly; or a little saffron steeped in a cup of boiling water, which will tinge it a deep yellow; strain the jelly through a coarse sieve of fine net or canvas. When potted, cut paper dipped in spirits, and lay on top, the size of the inner rim of the jar; have a larger round cut, so as to cover the outer rim; beat up the white of an egg, and with a feather brush this paper over; press the edges close to the jar; to do this well, snip the edge with the scissors, which will make it form to the shape of the jar.”
“Preserves thus secured from the air, do not mould as in the ordinary mode of tying them up, and the trouble is not more than tying with string.
The Canadian Emigrant Housekeeper’s Guide by Mrs C.P. Traill, 1851.
The next recipe is from The New Galt Cook Book, and jelly making seems to have evolved somewhat. Cooks are now using glass jars which would have had glass sealer tops. The cook no longer had to use paper, spirits and egg whites to seal the jars. This recipe is more straight forward in its instructions, although I wonder where I’d buy “a coarse bag?”
“Almost any apple will make jelly, though hard, sour, juicy apples make the best, both for keeping and flavor. Cut up the apples, do not peel or core, put them over the fire in preserving pan with sufficient water to cover and boil them until thoroughly done. Strain through a coarse bag and allow one pound of sugar to each pint of juice. Boil the juice twenty minutes without the sugar, which should meantime be put in a pan in the oven and heated very hot. When the juice has boiled twenty minutes add the hot sugar and stir only until dissolved. Then take off, pour into hot glasses and seal. If you wish the jelly perfectly clear, do not squeeze the bag when straining the apples.”
The New Galt Cook Book compiled by Margaret Taylor and Frances McNaught, 1898.
I made the recipe from the New Galt Cookbook. I used a combination of McIntosh and Northern Spy apples, and I followed the recipe mostly, as written above. I didn’t use a bag, instead, I used a French Chinois lined with damp cheesecloth. And because I couldn’t leave the recipe alone, I added 4 vanilla beans to the sugar syrup. After the jelly was cooked, I cut the vanilla beans into pieces and added them to the jars. I think that my pioneer sisters would have thought that my indulgence was reckless, yet the vanilla adds such a warm and exotic note, definitely not back woods. My jelly is so good that it makes me almost wish for a cold winter day, a plate of cream scones and a pot of tea. I think that my pioneer sisters would have approved.
I was able to produce six 8-ounce jars. Be sure to wash and sterilize your jars and process the jelly for 10 full minutes.