Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Testing Gel

Sure-Jell makes it quite easy to produce good home-made jelly. IF you follow the instructions. IF. IF. IF.

So I been a-makin' jelly according to instructions for quite a few years now. But sometimes things don't work out quite right. For example, I had to figure out how to make nectarine jam without over-cooking or under-cooking. Or sometimes you decide to try something wonky like I did today with my cherries -- instructionless. With all that hot sugar way beyond the boiling point of water, jams and jellies always look SO thin when they're done cooking. But I've made mistakes before, and the jam doesn't cook far enough. I really don't want to deal with re-cooking and re-canning the jam, and I don't want to use it for ice-cream topping which is the usual recommendation for runny jam.

So how do you know when the syrup is cooked long enough to gel?

Old cookbooks tell me that there is a test you can use: it's done when the jelly "sheets" off the side of a spoon. I have NO idea what that means. I mean, my brain knows what it means. But this is completely useless to me because I can't figure out in real life when the jelly is done or not.

The trick is to cool the jelly fast fast fast for your test.

So what you do is put several small bowls or plates in the freezer near your jelly-making spot. Today I placed all my custard cups in various spots in the fridge's freezer at the same time I started sterilizing the jelly jars. By the time the jam was nearly done, my custard cups were good and cold! When you think the jam may be done cooking, turn off the heat, scoop up about 1/2 teaspoon of the syrup, and pour a tiny puddle onto the bottom of the icy bowl. In about 10 seconds, you'll have a good idea of how solid your jam will be once it's canned and cooled. If you need to keep cooking it, turn the heat back on, and test it again soon.

I've undercooked jam. And I've overcooked jam. Undercooked is definitely preferable!!! (It's really not good when you need a paring knife to cut through your jam that's as sproingy-boingy as a superball.) But since I've discovered this way to test the gel, our jelly has turned out decently every time.

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