Harvest celebrations are common to many cultures. In America, harvest gatherings from hayrides to corn mazes open the path to Thanksgiving, in which abundance and gratitude for it spill forth as if from the cornucopia that is the symbol of the season. Fittingly, Thanksgiving is positioned just as autumn decays into winter. It was hard to imagine during lazy, sunny days, but we have been turning towards the winter solstice since June, and Friday’s equinox marked the halfway point of that journey. Their placement between the height of summer sun and the gathering twilight of Halloween underscores the importance of the year’s harvest holidays, for the abundance we celebrate is both cumulative and transitory.
Autumn is the season of Sukkot, the week-long Jewish celebration that commemorates the 40-year journey through the desert after the Exodus. Along with religious rites, feasting is the hallmark of Sukkot. Meals are consumed in a temporary hut called a sukkah that honors the temporary shelters built by the ancestors as they wandered the desert. In New York City, sukkahs appear in both residential areas and city parks. In the latter, “Sukkah-fests” give the faithful and the artistic the opportunity to interpret this wonderful holiday by interpreting the sukkah structure itself.
This golden season is symbolized by the abundance of the orchard as it fills bushel baskets. Tree fruits from snappy apples to buttery pears are peaking right now. Also at the orchard, they’ve fired up the cider press. I’ve written before about apple cider and its role as the official drink of autumn. But did you know you can preserve apple cider in a jar? Handled attentively, cider expresses a jelly that is both nuanced and deeply flavored. It is no accident that no county fair is complete without tables of glass jars shimmering in the slanting rays of late season sunlight. The county fair is a harvest festival, and canning is a practical, but artistic, expression of appreciation for the harvest. Here is an original recipe for welcoming autumn into your home by capturing its signature flavor. This recipe will yield about eight 8-ounce jars, but if you wish, use double the amount of 4-ounce jars so that once you’ve preserved this sweet distillation of the harvest, you can express the spirit of the harvest by sharing.
APPLE CIDER JELLY
It is essential to follow safe canning practices. For instructions on safe canning, click here: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html, or here: http://www.freshpreserving.com/getting-started.aspx.
6 cups apple cider, preferably organic
7 cups granulated sugar
1 1.75 box powdered fruit pectin
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
2. Place a large clean Dutch Oven or stock pot on the stovetop.
3. Measure the cider and the lemon juice into the pan. Turn the heat to high.
4. Add the pectin to the cider/lemon juice mixture. Use a wire whisk to stir the mixture until the pectin is completely dissolved.
5. Measure the sugar into a large bowl. Measure the spices into the sugar; use a clean wire whisk to combine. Place the spiced sugar safely within reach of the jelly mixture on the stovetop.
6. Once the cider/lemon mixture has reached a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, add the spiced sugar all at once to the cider/lemon mixture. Being careful to avoid splashing yourself with the hot mixture, stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved and the spices give off their fragrance. Heat on high until the mixture returns to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, approximately 2 minutes.
7. Once mixture reaches full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, turn the burner off.
8. Working carefully to avoid burning yourself or overly disturbing the jelly mixture, use a slotted spoon or skimmer to skim foam off of jelly and into the bowl that contained the sugar.
9. Place a clean towel on a counter near the canner.
10. Use canning tongs to remove hot jars from water bath. Do your best not to touch the hot jars; let the tongs do the work. Place hot jars mouth up on the clean towel.
11. Use a jar lifter to transport a jar mouth-side up to the pan containing the hot jelly. Place a clean canning funnel into the mouth of the jar. Use a clean spoon or ladle to fill the jar with jelly to the ½-inch mark. Continue until all of the jars are filled. It is okay if there is jelly left over; refrigerate it for use within 1 month.
12. Check for and remove air bubbles if any (see instructions).
13. Use a clean, damp sponge to wipe the rim of each jar. Center a clean, hot lid (see instructions) on each jar. Screw a band down on each jar until it meets resistance; increase just until tight.
14. Use canning tongs to return the jars to the boiling water bath. Add more water if necessary to ensure that the jars are completely covered by boiling water by 1 inch. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
15. After jars have processed for ten minutes in the boiling water bath, turn off the heat. Remove the canner lid and set aside. Let jars sit in hot water ten minutes.
16. After ten minutes, use the canning tongs to remove the jars. Being very careful of the hot jars, lids and liquid, place jars upright on the towel. Allow to sit 24 hours. After 24 hours, check for a vacuum seal (see instructions). Label each jar with the contents and the date prepared. Safely prepared, stored and sealed, the jam will keep for one year from date of preparation