One of my posts last week was about my apple butter process. As I said, I try to throw away as little as possible. Since I only have one apple tree, I want to make the most out of the fruit my great little dwarf tree produces. This is even more important because this may be the last year I get fruit for a while or maybe even forever with this tree. Three seasons ago the south had a bad freeze that developed right during apple blossom time. Nobody got apples that year – or pecans, peaches or plums for that matter.
The good news is the next year, my apple tree decided to overdo itself and produce the largest crop of it’s short lifetime. The bad news is the tree lost limbs from too many apples and started to lean so much that it’s now held up with strong ropes and ties. When it started leaning, it cracked the bark and I believe a fungus has invested the tree. So, this year, I’m doing major surgery, cutting back all the branches and trying to force the tree to grow straight again. For one, I won’t have apples for a few years, but I might save the tree. Otherwise, it was worth the effort.
Knowing that I wanted to save a much of my harvest as possible, during the last few years I have tried, unsuccessfully, to make apple jelly. Since I boil all the peelings and cores to make more apple butter, I end up with a lot of apple juice as a byproduct. I use a lot of it in the apple butter, but I saved a large portion to attempt apple jelly. Twice I’ve been unsuccessful.
If you follow my blog, you know I talked about cooks versus bakers in a previous post. Remember me, I am the cook. That means I tend to cook from the seat of my pants, and not the recipe. Well, I had this great idea that I could make good apple jelly WITHOUT all the sugar. Remember, I said this was Jelly, not jam. It turns out that was part of my problem. This is epiphany number one.
As I’m sitting there pouring last years “non-jelly, more like apple syrup” into the batch of jelly I tried this year, I had the ephiphany. Why don’t I do what the recipe says and make it one cup of sugar to one cup of juice. That’s a lot of sugar, but I wanted Jelly, durn it.
If you have ever cooked and made simple syrup you know what happens to boiling water and sugar. It tries to crawl out of the pot. Literally. I remembered that when this happened before, I stopped the process and put what I had in the jelly jars. This is where I had epiphany number two. The recipe said the jelly had to come to 220 degrees. Not lower, but 220 degrees. I suddenly realized I needed to be a lot more patient and figure out a way to let it continue boiling without leaving the pot. Mind you, this epiphany came up as I cleaned up the fourth overflow on my glass topped stove. Eww, the smell of very burnt sugar and apple can be overwhelming, trust me.
So, in my epiphany moment, I decided to remove most of the apply and sugar mixture in my very tall pot and let the stuff boil away. It mean I had to extend the process, forcing me to boil this stuff in three different batches, but I was a woman on a mission. And it worked. I have nine pints of really tasty apple jelly. Wo Hoo.
And that’s when it hit me that I’ve had other similar kinds of epiphanies. Like the temperature of water that goes into yeast for bread. The directions say the water needs to be warm. They even occasionally say the temperature of the water – but that number varies as well. I struggled with my bread baking (remember – cook not baker) and getting my bread to rise was always hit or miss. Until I stumbled on an idea. I decided to test the water the same way I used to test the milk in my babies’ milk bottles – by using my wrist. Through trial and error, I found out if it was too hot, the yeast died. If it was too cool, the yeast couldn’t get enough warmth to bloom. Now, I’m sure I could probably have found a cooking thermometer and been scientific about this but that totally goes against the grain of a cook. Heck, I don’t need no stinkin recipe. Well, I do, but only as a guide.
My last cooking epiphany (not last in ever, but in what I will talk about here) was my piecrust. I love piecrust and I wanted to make the flakiest crust I could. Again I struggled with trial and error for years until I came up with my epiphany. You don’t work the dough hard – the lighter the touch the better. That and I always use Crisco, not butter.
I suppose if I was more of a baker and not a “by the seat of your pants” cook, I wouldn’t need to have epiphanies in order to have cooking success. But gosh, that takes all the fun out of it. So, I’ll continue down my path to cooking glory, one failure at a time.
Ciao for now, y’all.