Growing & Storing
It was October 25th and 43 degrees in Old Chatham when I woke. Our garden had slowly been dwindling away, retreating from the frosty nights, not willing to produce but retreating into protection mode. It was a tough season. We planted 16 rows of hopeful plants in the Spring, that ultimately drowned in the record breaking levels of rain the late spring and summer delivered us. I had great hopes of having a strong root cellar and a vision of rows and rows of Lady Jayne jarred goods in my pantry to keep us through the winter. Alas, I’ve had to edit my vision a bit, but not completely.
With the better part of the garden under water, I decided to forage deep into the woods in an effort to bulk up where my garden did not. I have found a wonderful assortment of fruits, herbs and fungi. I have discovered unique ways to bulk up my basic production using these treasures. Its been a wonderful way to remind me that even though my tomato plants only fruited once, not to fret, there’s more beyond my garden fence to keep me through the winter.
My most recent productions have been Wild apple jelly with celery from our garden and thyme from the fields; Wild fox grape jelly with lemon verbena from our garden and gin; Wild apple and blue hubbard squash jelly; Poached hawthorn fruits in horse-balm syrup with fresh bay leaf, mustard and nutmeg; Garden tomato jam with chili and chestnut honey; Wild berry and herb vinegar; Garden rhubarb kimchi; Garden rhubarb with cardamon tincture (great for digestion); Summer garden bean kimchi with garden borage; Garden tomato sauce; Brined Nasturtium pods (like a spicy caper); Garden calendula tincture; My famous salt and oil cured garden chillies; and, last but not least, a Siberian crab apple and cranberry chutney.
A Lady Jayne lesson learned: even though a cultivated garden may not bear as much as one had hoped, the Hudson Valley itself is very fertile and while some of my crops may have washed away in the deluge, wild plants outside of my garden have thrived. I’m constantly learning to adapt and my ideas of what should be grown are changing as my relationship with the land evolves. My ideas of what my pantry should be filled with for the winter is changing as I learn more about this great land that surrounds me. I have learned to listen to my soil, it has let me know, during this trying growing season, what it wants to grow and from there I create with what it provides.
Lady Jayne’s Fox Grape Jelly with Lemon Verbena Gin
Yields about 5 1/2 pint jars
5 pounds wild grapes (upstate NY has Fox grapes, you can use Concord or a local wild grape where you live)
3 firm local apples (I use the wild apples on our property. Please don’t use apples from the grocery store, they are old and lack the natural pectin required to thicken the jelly naturally)
3 cups pure cane sugar
3/4 cup water
Juice of 1 lemon
4-5 hearty sprigs of fresh Lemon Verbena
1/2 liter of a London Dry Gin (Plymouth, Beefeater or Aviation)
1 fine mesh jelly bag, or a large square of cheesecloth doubled over
Place the lemon verbena, stems and all in your hands and squeeze firmly to release the natural oils. Place them in a deep bowl or jar that is big enough to hold the 1/2 liter of gin. Pour the gin over the herb and let it sit, covered for at least 24 hours (if you have the time and can wait, 3 days is perfect).
When your gin is wonderfully infused, start the jelly.
Remove the grapes from the vines, rinse lightly and place the fruit (skin, seeds and all) in a heavy bottom enamel pot (never use aluminum pots, they react with acid and taint the jelly). Add the 3/4 cup of water and with a potato masher, crush the grapes aggressively, pushing out all the juice and extracting the color and protective jell that is inside the skins.
Cut up the apples into quarters and add to the pot (skins, seeds and all).
Quickly bring to a boil while stirring, then reduce heat to a simmer and allow fruit to cook until soft, about 20 minutes.
Lightly moisten the jelly bag or cheesecloth and lay over a wide, deep bowl or pot so that the edges of the cloth are resting over the edges of the bowl. Pour the grape and apple mixture into the cloth. With butcher twine, tie the cloth as close to the fruit mixture as possible.
Secure a good place to hang your mixture where it is well above the juice catch bowl, but not so much it splashes out as it’s hanging (I hang mine under an old wooden table, and in great moments around the bathtub faucet). Let the juice drain overnight.
Next day, discard cloth with solids. Bring the pot of collected juice to a boil, skim the scum and discard that scummy scum. Add the sugar and lemon juice and reduce to a simmer until the jelly stage is achieved. When jelly stage has been reached, remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the verbena gin (strained). Stir jelly to evenly distribute the gin. Fill in jar and process in traditional water bath, or let cool to room temp and place in fridge.
Delicious with bread and butter or game meats. Fatty ‘Cue Manhattan served it with their Ham, Jam, Butter and Pretzel Bread appetizer.
Photo Credit: Jori Jayne Emde
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