Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Accidental Hobby: Part One

Ever since I was little, sewing and needlecraft have been staple hobbies. Other hobbies I enjoyed were 'spinoffs' of those, or other crafts like beadwork, stamping, etc. I've always been artistic and highly interested in art as well, so it was an interesting and pleasant surprise to find out I loved making jams and jellies, as well as making everything from sauces to pickles.

I describe falling into this hobby as a complete accident. Several years ago, a friend had a huge glut of grapes she didn't know what to do with. She'd moved into a home that was surrounded by a fence with grapevines growing along it, and they were getting ripe as she moved in. We decided to make juice with most of them (they had seeds, and not many people want to eat grapes with seeds). We ended up with several gallons of juice that we just didn't know what to do with, and didn't have room to store it all. Neither of us were interested or had the capital to try and learn how to make wine, so we decided to try to make grape jelly. She'd made it before but I hadn't, so I took my share of the juice home and began to research the subject.

The local chain grocery store only carried the SureJell brand of pectin, and in my ignorance, believed this was the thing to use (please know that I'm not bashing the brand here, just the type of pectin used by the brand; if that sounds confusing, read on), and went home with all the other needed ingredients. The resulting jelly was really quite sweet and very tasty, but I was shocked at the amount of sugar required. I found I enjoyed the whole process, and loved sharing jars with family and friends, so that summer I made some raspberry jam, too. Again though, the amount of sugar required when using this brand was incredible.

During that fall and winter, I did a lot of research. I found that while SureJell made version that required less or no sugar, it added artificial ingredients that I wasn't happy with. For many people they work very well, but I wanted to make jams and jellies with loads less (or no) sugar for two main reasons: The first was that we don't NEED that much sugar; using so much to make a jam seemed to me to completely defeat the purpose of making the jam-wasn't I trying to preserve the fruit to enjoy its goodness later? It seemed I was just making fruit-flavored stuff! The second was that with less sugar, the fruit used tasted more like the fruit itself. Both of these reasons really tie in together, and it drove me to find a pectin that worked with less sugar and didn't have unnecessary additives.

In my next post (Part Two), I'll discuss what I found, and how well it's worked for me. It's actually a combination of different things, most of which are just as easy as using SureJell.

For now, enjoy a look at one of the many jams I have listed on Etsy (pictured above, link at the end). Straberry Kiwi Jam, made from strawberries picked right here in Oregon from a farm that uses no herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. Small and blood-red all the way through, the strawberries were so flavorful and sweet that I used very little sugar to sweeten the jam. The kiwis were purchased from New Seasons' organic section, and really added some interesting taste to the jam; kiwi and strawberry definitely compliment each other! This jam was made in late July and has an official shelf-life of one year, although jam can typically last much longer than that when stored properly.

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