Rhubarb Jelly Saga 2023

I bought a steam juicer at a garage sale a few years ago. When I picked it up to look at it, the owner raved about all the good things she’d made with it, so I handed her a tenner, and took a chance I’d actually use it. I did, and I love it. A practical, simple contraption for juicing. I think I’ve only used it for rhubarb, and Haines cherries may be next to try.

When we returned from my cousin Emily’s funeral back in NY state, the forecast was for a week of rain. I knew it was time to clear out some freezer space as Sara had to jockey around a bunch of things to make room for all the king salmon we had from this spring, and then I had to find it to pack up a box to take back with us.

As often happens, I think about things to do at home when I’m away. Firewood. Canning. Boat work. Stuff like that. So the day we got home, I dug through both freezers we have working to find (hopefully) all the rhubarb from the past years. The rhubarb patch in our yard, where I’d dug up plants and separated them at the bulb and replanted a few years ago, was now taking off, so I figure I’d use that rhubarb for fresh desserts. I’d already canned a case of pickled rhubarb after tasting some at a birthday party in Craig in the spring.

The following day, Sara left for Bristol Bay for a fish processor tour, so I got the juicer out and started making juice. The juicers are such a simple contraption, and if I’m doing it right, take very little work. The juicer is comprised of 3 pans that nestle into each other The bottom is the water bath pan that needs to be checked every once in awhile to be sure there’s water left. The top pan has holes in the bottom and is where the cut up rhubarb goes. The middle pan has a chimney of sorts in the middle, like a sponge cake pan, that allows steam to go up to the fruit in the top pan, and as the juice comes out of the fruit, it falls into the middle pan, which has a drain nipple on the outside with a clamp hose attached. As the juice collects in the middle pan, you put the end of the hose in a container and unclamp the hose to drain of the juice.

As the rhubarb in the top pan has the juice steamed out of it, it reduces to a pulp, and I just pile more new rhubarb on top as I’ve seen others do in stories and videos. I might try doing it in batches next time, letting all the juice come out of a batch in top colander, then dumping that and starting again. I’m not sure it matters much. The pulp goes in the compost so is recycled anyway.

The juicing part was easy. I got enough juice – about one and a half gallons – for 2 cases of half pints of jelly,  plus an extra gallon I canned raw in quart jars.

Unlike the juice making, the jelly making was a learning experience. I’ve not made jelly very often. Just from high bush cranberries, I think. And maybe some jelly from cherries or salmon berries I let sit in a colander before processing or freezing.

Jam is a lot more forgiving because the fruit pulp gives even runny jam some consistency. Unset jelly can be as fluid as the juice used to make it. The runny jelly is useful for a syrup over ice cream or in yogurt, but not much of a spread.

I first used regular pectin, which requires a good amount of sugar for it to work. Finding a specific rhubarb jelly recipe was somewhat difficult, so I tried to wing it on the amount of sugar and pectin. The jelly didn’t gel at all. Next I used Sure Gel no sugar / low sugar pectin, thinking maybe the amount of sugar I’d used was off. Some of the batches gelled a little, but not much. After the jars cooled, I them in the fridge overnight, but it didn’t help much. The jelly tasted great – fantastic, really – but just never gelled.

Yesterday, Kurt, Jeff, and I took the boat around Douglas to Auke Bay for the summer. We dropped a car for Sara at the airport and a car at Auke Bay for us to get home, then took the boat around the island from the downtown harbor. We tried for salmon and got a Dolly Varden, which made Kurt happy as he loves eating it. We tried several spots for halibut, and no fish. When I got home, Sara had left a message that she took a paid bump for her trip home, so would not be back til the evening.

I saw the jars of runny jelly in the fridge, and couldn’t take it. I would try again.

I removed all the reuseable Tattler lids and gaskets from the jars and poured all the jelly into a pot and put it on to boil. I went to Foodland, and they only had one jar of no sugar pectin – Ball brand. So I bought that figuring it was enough. It was not. When I read the directions, I realized I needed two jars. I didn’t want to drive all the way to the valley to find more, so I tried Rainbow Foods to see if they had pectin. Good choice. They did.

They had Pomona Pectin. I hadn’t used that since I was in Kodiak and Sand Point making salmon berry jam. I think I ordered it out of Mother Earth News. It’s a pectin that uses calcium and pectin to gel the jelly, not pectin and sugar. So the amount of sugar in the jelly is not critical. And the recipes allow for up to tripling a batch recipe, which regular pectin recipes frown on. I followed the directions, reading them over and over, and calculating and recalculating, for a triple batch.

Once I measured and got the triple batch going in one pot, I had a double batch of juice still left. And not quite enough pectin to do it. But the instructions say you can vary the amount of pectin used to vary the consistency of the gel, so I used what was left. I also followed the Tattler lid instructions exactly, including letting the jars sit for 5 minutes after coming out of the canner before retightening the rings, and letting the jars sit overnight before removing the rings and checking for lid seals. I’ve regularly had problems with their lids sealing, and mostly from my impatience, I think.

All came out perfect. The jelly gelled and tasted great. All the jars sealed after sitting overnight with tight rings. Success.

We are through about half the summer growing season, so likely will see a case or two more of pickled rhubarb go in the pantry, and then a bunch more into the freezer or given away.

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