When the necessary utensils have been conveniently placed and the desired fruit has been selected, the housewife may proceed at once to the work of making jelly. Each step is here outlined in the order in which it should be taken up in doing the actual work. The entire procedure should be properly followed out in order to insure the best results, and every part of the work should be carefully done so as to avoid any waste of material.
Prepare the fruit in whatever way is necessary. The preparation needed will depend, of course, on the kind of fruit selected for the jelly, but usually not so much preparation is needed as in the case of canning. For instance, when crab-apple jelly is made, the stems are removed and the fruit is cut into halves or quarters, but they need not be peeled nor have the seeds taken out. Specific directions for the different varieties of fruits are given in the various recipes. The chief precaution to take in preparing the fruit, no matter what kind is used, is to see that it is thoroughly cleaned.
With the fruit prepared, put it into a large kettle and add enough water to start the cooking and prevent scorching. Some fruits will require more water than others, especially when they must be cooked a long time in order to soften them sufficiently to extract the juice. Juicy fruits, like plums, need only the minimum amount of water, while drier fruits, such as apples, require more. Place the kettle on the stove and allow the fruit to cook until it is soft or is reduced to a pulp.
The length of time for cooking will also depend entirely on the kind of fruit that is being used.
When the fruit is thoroughly cooked, pour the pulp and the juice that has formed into the jelly bag and allow it to drip into a pan placed directly under the bag.
Formerly, it was the custom to let the juice drip until no more remained in the bag. This method is followed to some extent at present, but it is falling into disuse, as it is not the most economical way of extracting the juice from the pulp. More juice can be obtained and more jelly made from the same amount of fruit if three extractions instead of one are made. Make the first extraction by pouring the pulp and juice into the bag and permitting the juice to drip only until it begins to run very slowly. Then return the pulp to the kettle, add a small quantity of water, and let it boil again for a few minutes. Pour it the second time into the jelly bag, and let it drip as before. Cook it the third time in the same way, and then allow it to drip until all the juice is extracted. At this point, mix the juice from the three extractions. They should not be used separately, for they are much different in quality, the third one being not so good as the second and the second, inferior to the first. On the other hand, when all three are mixed, an excellent quality is the result, provided all conditions are correct, and a larger quantity of juice is obtained for the jelly.
The quantity of juice that may be extracted depends on the quality as well as the kind of fruit. If the season is a rainy one, the fruits will be found to contain more juice than they would in a dry season. Then, too, if the fruits are picked immediately after a rain, they will contain more juice than the same fruits before the rain. The amount of juice the fruit contains determines, of course, the quantity of water that should be added in the cooking. If only one extraction is intended, 3 to 4 quarts of water may be used for 8 quarts of fruit, depending on the kind of fruit; but if three extractions are to be made, less water should be added for each extraction. In case the extracted juice contains more water than it should have, either because the fruit contains an excessive amount of water or because too much water was added to the fruit in its cooking, the superfluous water will be extracted by boiling the juice with the sugar a little longer as the jelly is being made.
It is not always necessary to have the fleshy part of fruit for jelly making, for often the skins, seeds, and cores of fruits may be cooked with water and the juice then extracted from them. Another point to remember is that the pulp from which the juice is extracted may sometimes be used for jam or marmalade. If points like these are taken into consideration, it will not be necessary to waste any part of edible fruits.
When the juice has been extracted from the fruit, it should be tested for pectin in order to determine whether or not it will be satisfactory for the making of jelly. A test that can be applied by the housewife is illustrated here.
Into a tumbler, put a tablespoonful of juice and with this mix a tablespoonful of alcohol. If, upon adding the alcohol, the fruit juice turns into a gelatinous, or jelly-like, mass that may be easily gathered up on the spoon, it may be known that pectin is present. As has already been stated, the presence of this substance in fruit juice insures the fact that jelly can be made from the juice.
If, in the test for pectin, the addition of alcohol to the fruit juice does not turn the juice into a jelly-like mass, pectin is not present. Such juice, or juice that contains only a small amount of pectin, will prove unsuccessful in jelly making unless some substance or juice high in pectin is added to it. The white skin from the inside of orange, lemon, or grapefruit peelings or the juice from apples, crab apples, currants, green gooseberries, or other fruit containing a large quantity of pectin may be used for this purpose. Also, commercial pectin may be purchased and used with fruits according to the directions that accompany it.
It is always necessary to supply pectin in some way to such fruits as strawberries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, pears, etc. To the sweet ones, like peaches and raspberries, lemon juice or other acid fruit juice also must be added if satisfactory jelly is desired.
The only other ingredient used in jelly making, besides the fruit juice, is sugar. After the juice has been strained from the fruit, the next step is to determine how much sugar must be used. This is of extreme importance, as the success of the jelly depends very largely on whether or not the correct proportion is used. If too much sugar is added to the juice, a greater quantity of jelly will result, but it will not stand up as it should when it is turned out of the glass. On the other hand, if too little sugar is used, a smaller quantity of jelly than the required amount will be made and it will be tough and sour.
It is difficult to give the exact proportion of sugar to use with every kind of fruit, for some fruits require more than others. However, in general, 3/4 cupful of sugar to each cupful of juice will be sufficient.
This is especially true if the season has been a dry one and the fruits are neither very sour nor very juicy. After a wet season or with very sour or very juicy fruits, it will usually be necessary to use 1 cupful of sugar to each cupful of juice.
Much waste of sugar and spoiling of jelly can be avoided by the use of the test for pectin, which has just been described. After the juice and the alcohol have been mixed, pour the mixture slowly from the glass, noting how the pectin is precipitated. If it is precipitated as one lump, a cupful of sugar may be used for each cupful of juice; if in several lumps, the proportion of sugar must be reduced to approximately three-fourths the amount of juice. If the pectin is not in lumps, but is merely precipitated, the sugar should be one-half or less of the amount of the juice.
To assist in determining the correct proportion of sugar to use in the making of jelly, the hydrometer, or sirup gauge, will be found helpful. After the juice has been extracted, mix with a small amount of it the proportion of sugar that is to be used when the jelly is cooked. Allow the sugar to dissolve completely, pour a little of the mixture into a glass or a graduate, and insert the hydrometer.
Regardless of the kind of juice, the hydrometer should register 25 degrees for perfect jelly. If it registers less than 25 degrees, more sugar should be added. Then if it is necessary to add either sugar or juice, the additional ingredient should be carefully measured in order that the proportions may be correct for the making of jelly. It must not be understood that a hydrometer is an actual necessity in the making of jelly, for very good jelly can be made without measuring the ingredients in this manner. However, if a hydrometer is not used, it will be necessary to apply the best judgment possible to the rules given for the proportion of ingredients used in jelly making.
The mixing of the juice and the sugar may seem like a trivial matter, but in reality much is involved in combining these ingredients properly. It may be done in three different ways. In the first method, which is called long boiling, the sugar and the juice are mixed cold and are then allowed to come to the boiling point together. The second, which is known as mean boiling, consists in putting the cold juice on the stove, allowing it to boil about half the required time, and then adding the sugar, which has also been heated. In the third, which is known as the short-boiling method, the juice is boiled without the sugar almost the full length of time required for making the jelly, and the sugar, which has been heated, is added just before the boiling is completed.
Experience in the use of these three methods has shown their advantages and disadvantages. The first one, or the long-boiling process, has the disadvantage of losing sugar through the skimming that is always necessary in the making of jelly. In addition, the long boiling often causes the sugar to crystallize and thus produces a jelly that would not score very high. The short boiling is not entirely satisfactory, because of the difficulty in determining just when to add the sugar to the juice. The process of mean boiling, having neither of these drawbacks and usually resulting in jelly of excellent quality, is the most satisfactory and the one that is recommended.
To carry out this method, place the sugar in a pan in a warm oven or other place where it will gradually become heated without either melting or scorching. Put the juice over the fire in a saucepan and let it boil for 5 to 8 minutes. Then slowly add the correct proportion of hot sugar to the boiling juice, stirring constantly so that the sugar will dissolve as quickly as possible.
The boiling of the juice, both before and after the sugar is added, should be done rapidly. During this process, it will be found that a scum will form over the top of the juice. This should be skimmed off as it forms, for it is a detriment to the jelly. Draw a large spoon over the top of the boiling juice from time to time and skim off the scum that rises, placing it into any small dish that is handy.
It is usually advisable to do as much skimming as possible before the sugar is added, so that only a minimum amount of sugar will be lost.
The length of time required to boil the juice after the sugar is added depends very largely on the way in which the boiling is carried on. If the mixture is boiled rapidly, less time will, of course, be needed than if it is boiled slowly. Therefore, no definite time can be set for the cooking. However, several tests may be resorted to in order to determine whether the sugar and juice have boiled long enough to jell when the mixture is cold.
The testing of the mixture can be done in various ways, the one to select depending on the success the housewife has in using them. A means very often resorted to consists in dipping a spoonful or two of the mixture out of the kettle and pouring it on the flat surface of a cold dish. If it is cooked sufficiently, it will solidify when it is cold and will appear just like jelly. The disadvantage of this test lies in the fact that the jelly on the stove continues to boil while the test is being made, and as this takes several minutes, the jelly is likely to overboil to a considerable extent. Tests that can be performed more quickly are therefore more satisfactory.
A test that invariably proves successful consists in dipping up a spoonful of the juice and allowing it to run slowly from the spoon back into the pan. If a double row of drops forms on the spoon with the last of the jelly that remains, it may be known that the cooking is finished.
Another very satisfactory test is called sheeting. In the performing of this test, a spoonful of the jelly is dipped from the pan and then poured from the spoon into the pan again. If it is cooked to the proper consistency, large drops will form at the edge of the spoon and break off quickly.
As soon as it has been determined that the jelly is sufficiently cooked, it should be removed from the stove. The glasses may then be filled at once. These, together with the covers, must be thoroughly cleansed before being used, and this can be done while the jelly is cooking. After being thoroughly washed, submerge them in a pan of hot water and allow them to remain there until they are to be used. Keeping them hot in this way will prevent them from cracking when the hot jelly is poured into them. Take out one glass at a time, place it on a small plate or any small dish, and pour the hot jelly into it from the pan to within 1/4 inch of the top.
Fill the remaining glasses in the same way, and then set them somewhere out of a draft to cool. If, as the jelly cools, it seems to be a little bit thin, place it somewhere in the sunshine and the heat of the sun will help to thicken it.
The jelly should be allowed to cool completely and should then be closed for storing. The best results are obtained by putting a thin layer of paraffin over the top of the jelly in each glass before applying the cover. To do this, put into a small saucepan as much paraffin as you think will be needed to cover the jelly you have made and set this on the stove to melt. When it has melted, pour a layer about 1/8 inch thick over the surface of the jelly.
As soon as it cools, it will harden and thus form a protective covering for the jelly. When it is hard, cover the glass in the desired way. Covers of tin are perhaps the most satisfactory, but if these cannot be secured, heavy paper covers that fit into the glasses snugly will answer the purpose very well. In the event of not having covers of either of these kinds, cover the tops of the glasses with paper—any good wrapping paper will do—and then tie this paper securely. Just before putting the jelly away, label each glass with a neat label on which is written the name of the jelly. Then no difficulty will be experienced in selecting at once the kind of jelly desired when one is taking a glass from the place where it is stored.