Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
This month we are going to take a stroll through the sweet and sticky world of jams, jellies and their relatives.
Fruit PreservesThe term preserves means anything preserved, but is often used to describe jams and jellies. Only preservation societies deal with making syrup now days so we will deal with the jams and jellies.
Wild plum trees are hard to find nowadays and usually the birds and other creatures get the fruit before it's ripe enough to make jelly. Elderberries can be found growing along the streams and rivers of Texas. The storied agarita berry plant of the Texas Hills has a small, yellowish berry that is highly favored by many but, alas, the time required to pick a gallon of these berries kinda takes the shine off the finished product. Although not native, blueberries are now being grown in Texas. They grow very large but to me, they are lacking in taste.
We can't finish here without mentioning honey. Honey is nature's sweet gift from the honeybee. Nothing is as good as a good helping of clover honey on a buttered biscuit. The invasion of the South American "killer bees" has the native bees on the decline -- mainly because it is difficult to tell a native honeybee from a Latin bee, so nearly everyone is against all bees. We are going to have to start taking care of our honeybees, though, because they pollinate nearly every fruit and vegetable on our tables. Without them, we'll be on an all meat diet.
Jams, jellies and their ilk go best with fresh butter. When I was growing up, "butterbread and jelly" was a favorite after-school snack. My favorite was always plum jelly. In those days, every garden had a plum tree or two.
Pectin is the stuff that makes jams and jellies "jell". It's a natural component of fruits and berries. Before pectin was available by itself, making jam and jelly was a long, tedious process. Ripe fruit has less natural pectin than green fruit so you had to add some green fruit to your recipe to get the thing to jell. Now you can get pectin in liquid or powdered form in the canning section of your local supermarket. The powdered pectin is added before the fruit is boiled, the liquid after the fruit is boiling. The liquid pectin is a real time saver.
Now that you are ready to start making your very own jelly or jam, here's a few things you will need:
Here are recipes for my "Stop Light Trio" of jellies -- green, orange and red. Aside from tasting good, jellies are nice to look at.
Fresh Mint Jelly
Add the pectin and food coloring, and bring back to a full boil for one-half minute. Remove from heat. Skim the foam off the top. Strain through a double thickness of damp cheesecloth and put immediately into jars and seal. Makes 3 or 4 eight-ounce jars.
Jalapeño Pepper Jelly
Seed and devein all the peppers, and roughly chop them. Purée the peppers in a blender with the water. You may need to make more than one batch, depending upon the size of your blender. Combine the pepper purée, vinegar and sugar in a kettle and boil slowly for 10 minutes. Add the pectin and food coloring, and bring to a hard boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and skim foam. Pour into containers and seal.
The kids may not care for the jalapeño jelly, but we can't have a whole world devoted to twelve year olds. The jalapeño jelly is great on cold roast beef or used as a glaze on your grilled chicken. And if guests arrive unexpectedly, put out an 8-ounce block of cream cheese covered liberally with jalapeño jelly. Serve with corn chips. It'll be a big hit.
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