When my grandmother and grandfather arrived, they not only brought a gift for the birthday boy, they brought me four or five pounds of wild plums from their plum tree. They were not the big plums like you find at the grocery store, but itty-bitty plums about the size of a half dollar. They are tart and perfect for jelly. I asked my grandmother to teach me how to make jelly this summer, envisioning standing side by side while the jelly bubbled on the stove. Her reply, "It is easy, just go buy yourself a box of Sure-Jell and follow the directions." I guess when you are almost 76 jelly making has lost a bit of the magic and just seems like work. It did make me laugh though. She did tell me that instead of pitting and chopping the tiny plums she just puts them in a pan, covers them with water and simmers them until the skins burst. I was very glad to hear this shortcut because I was not looking forward to pitting all those little plums.
So Sunday, armed with my pressure cooker, some half pint jelly jars, a couple boxes of Sure-Jell, a big bag of sugar and my wild plums I set out to make my first batch of real jelly. I could have made freezer jelly but I really did not want my freezer full of jelly- besides I think the jewel toned jars of jelly make such pretty gifts. I cooked the plums for about 10 minutes, then drained the cooked fruit in a strainer set over a big bowl. I then poured the juice and pulp in the beer making muslin bag that my husband uses for boiling hops and grain. I was aiming for just the juice so the jelly would be clear. I hung the bag from the cabinet handle and placed a bowl underneath to catch the juice. When The Boy Wonder saw this he said, "Wouldn't it be funny if I poked a hole in the side of the bag and jelly went shooting across the kitchen?!" My reply, "NO! KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY JELLY, BOY!" Silly child. While the juice drained I put the jars in the dishwasher to wash and sterilize, had a beer and spun a bit.
After the juice was finished draining I followed the instructions on the box for plum jelly. After adding the sugar I was sure that the jelly was going to boil over the top of the pot, spilling its sticky sweetness all over and into the stove while permanently disfiguring me with a horrible jelly burn. (melodramatic much? yes, perhaps a little bit.) I used a eight quart pot and have made a mental note to buy a bigger pot before trying this again. The cooking time was up just before it boiled over thankfully.
I filled the cutsy jars and put them in the pressure cooker to seal. Every time I use my pressure cooker I am afraid it is going to explode. This time was no exception. The directions on the Sure-jell read 'Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches.' So after having a few beers, I interpreted 'cover' as meaning '1 to 2 inches over the top of the jars'. After the pressure was up on the cooker I noticed that quite a bit of water was sputtering out of the pressure release valve. As I hid in the living room (and reread the pressure cooker instructions), the pot sputtered and steamed and threatened to blow up on the stove. I then realized that I was only supposed to put 1 and a half quarts of water in the canner. I had put at least twice that much in there. This is when I thought to myself, 'Shit, I am really going to blow it up this time. Glass shards in jelly is going to be a bitch to clean up.'
After consulting my friend Google and finding nothing to help the situation, I decided it might be best to take the pot off the stove, pour off the water and reprocess the jars. I quickly removed the pot from the burner and let the pressure go down. When I started to remove the jars I started hearing a familiar sound, 'plink, plink...plink,plink...plink,plink,plink,plink.' My jars all sealed! Woo-hoo! I did not process them again, so I hope no one gets botulism from my jelly. I know back in the day my Grandmother just filled the clean jars with hot jelly and let them seal without processing and she never poisoned anyone, so I think I am probably safe. I covered the jars with a towel and a big sign on top warning my kids not to touch them, since you are not supposed to move them for 24 hours while the jelly sets.
Jelly making is one of those things that I feel I should learn in order to call myself a Proper Southern Housewife. I have already mastered biscuits, pickles and canning fresh veggies from the garden, so jelly was next on my list. It was quite a lot of work for 9 half pints of jelly, but I am happy that I can finally say I have made homemade jelly. I still have enough juice for another batch and I think it will be a bit easier and less stressful the next time. I can't wait for toast and jelly for breakfast tomorrow if my jelly sets or waffles and plum syrup if it does not!