Culinary Misadventures -or- Oops! I Made Jelly!

I love the idea of eating off the land.  Romantic self sufficiency.  “Putting up” fresh produce by canning and freezing.  But canning, really.  You never know when the power will go out.  Solar panels would take care of it.  Yeah, solar panels all over the garage and house.  We could go off the grid entirely!

Ace read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle several years ago.  He became inspired.  We dabbled in vegetables, ripped out non-edible shrubs, and even planted peanuts.  I cocked my head, deep in thought.  Hm, thought I.  Kingsolver strives to lead an exemplary locavore life in Southern Appalachia.

Folks, I’m here to tell you that she lives in zone 6b.  In practical terms, this means her growing season is about 2.5 months longer than mine.  During her excess growing season, Ms. Kingsolver can plant and harvest an entire crop of Ace 55 tomatoes.  (Yes, that is an actual variety.)  Meanwhile, I can continue to wear polar fleece socks to bed and run my extremities under hot water before holding hands with my husband.

Once I put the whole situation in perspective, I felt fully justified in defining “local” food as originating from the continental US – at least during the desolation of November, December, January, February, March, April, and May.  Oh, and the latter half of October.

Imagine my glee when I spotted shrubbery positively laden with plump violet berries.  And not in my own yard.  I inquired with the business owner: “Excuse me – do you know the identity of the berries out front there?”  Remarkably, he knew!  A child had eaten copious quantities the prior summer without the parent’s knowledge, prompting a call to the landlord.  Chokeberries.  Entirely benign.

“Really?” I said.  “They make a gorgeous jelly!”  Not that I had ever made jelly.  That’s my dad’s realm.  The business owner invited me to harvest ad lib.

The Big E and I picked an enormous basketful which I turned into 1.5 gallons of juice.  The internet initially misled me.  I became convinced that chokeberries are equivalent to chokecherries.  The aren’t.  The seeds of chokecherries turn into literal cyanide inside the guts of people.  Nice.  Don’t eat the seeds.

I decided to make chokeberry syrup.  For pancakes.  Because the last time I made pancakes was like four years ago.  I started with a University of MN recipe for chokecherry syrup.  Four cups of sugar sounded like two too many, so I substituted a couple cups of Trader Joe’s organic apple juice.  Didn’t have 1/2 cup lemon juice.  Used the juice from two limes instead.  The recipe calls for “1/2 package powdered pectin.”  Okey dokey.

I learned the hard way that pectin is like cornstarch.  Dissolve it in a bit of liquid first, then dump into the big vat.  It wouldn’t stir.  It didn’t wisk.  I resorted to the hand blender with tolerable results.

Since I don’t know how to can and take an exceedingly dim view of botulism, I refrigerated the aubergine sludge in two vintage green Ball Perfect Mason jars.

My “syrup” turned to jelly.  And mighty tasty, too.  If you stop by in the next week you can try it.

Bring a baguette.

Musical Moment


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