It has been a tremendous Fall in the Hudson Valley so far. The land is so fertile, and Zak & I have been foraging deep in the woods for all things edible.
(It’s good to forage with a pack! This one has a water pack, books for referencing plants & fungi, some bags for collecting, tick repellent and a loaded crack pipe)
The wild apples on our property have fruited more than I can recall from the previous years, and I have taken full advantage! These apples are best for jelly, apple butter or cider because they are so goopy with natural pectin, that once you start to cook them down, they form a glue like paste which isn’t ideal for pie or sauce. I unfortunately do not have a cider press (note to self: add it to my christmas list), so I have simply been making jelly with the amazing apples.
I washed the apples and cut them into bite size pieces. I then added the apple pieces (skins, seeds and all) to a heavy bottom pot (never use aluminum). I also added celery from my garden and some wild thyme from the field, because it’s delicious and why not? Topped it with some water, brought it to a boil, then simmered until all mushy and cute.
(wild field thyme)
After cooking until soft and mushy, I poured it all into a cheesecloth and tied it up and hung it over a wide mouth heavy bottom pot (never aluminum!!!) and let it hang at room temperature overnight.
In the morning, I tossed the fruit mush into the trash with hopes that someday I would have some farm animals that would eat it instead. I took the juice to the stove and decided I was going to combine the Wild Apple Juice with my Wild Fox Grape Juice to have a higher yield of jelly . I do not add pectin to apple jellies because they naturally have so much.
What the hell are Fox Grapes? Well…
In the early fall, the wild grapes are abundant as well. The wild grapes where we are are Fox Grapes and they are similar in structure to a concord grape, but much smaller and more tart.
(collected fox grapes from the vines)
These little delicious jerks are very labor intensive. First you gather the grape clusters from the vines, then you have to remove the grapes from the twigs that form the clusters. Sounds simple, but when you’re dealing with 20 or so pounds, it takes forever! I tried to get my 8 year old step son and his friend to remove each grape from the twigs for me, but they said it was “too boring” and informed me that eating them was a lot more fun. I gave in and let them eat what they could and decided to save the task for the next day. I returned the kids to their mothers and Zak & I tackled the job sans ankle biters. It wasn’t so bad thanks to some Morgon, a joint and incredible weather.
Once the grapes are twig and leaf free, like the apple procedure, I added them to a heavy bottom pot (NEVER use aluminum…have I mentioned that yet?) and added water. Brought it to a boil and reduced to a simmer. While the grapes were simmering, I mashed the ever living crap out of them with a potato masher to remove the skin from the inner globule and to really release the most juice humanly possible.
After mashing the grapes over a simmer, I transferred it all to a cheesecloth, tied it up and hung it, like I explain above in the apple portion of this extensive post.
After the grapes drained overnight, I poured the liquid into another heavy bottom pot. I left behind the last 1/2 cup worth of juice and fed it to my kitchen sink drain, it has sediment that settled through the night that would cause my jelly to crystalize once refrigerated.
I married the apple and grape juices together in a clean heavy bottom pot, added the sugar and brought it to a boil, then simmered until some sexy jelly was achieved.
I wanted to add a special touch to this jelly. Last trip Zak & I took to Thailand (March 2011), I went to a market and bought fresh green peppercorns.
We asked the chef at our hotel if he would please cryogenically seal them up so we could pack them in our suit case and bring them back to NY with us. He agreed and in the spring, I took a few clusters and packed them into a 16oz jar and poured cold Riesling over them. They have been macerating in the fridge since then. They are delicious and super fragrant! When the jelly stage was achieved with my Wild Apple & Fox Grape Jelly, I poured the infused Riesling into the jelly and stirred it over low heat until it tightened up again. Then I dropped in a hand full of the macerated green peppercorns. Stirred it all together and poured it all into prepared jelly jars and processed them.
Moral of this Jelly post. Forage, create and don’t limit yourself to just juice and sugar…explore new flavors!!