Wednesday, June 02, 2010
PM Gets Domestic *
Last week I did something I haven't done since 2001, but after I got such a great offer, I couldn't turn it down. I mean, it was hot and sticky and sooooooooo sweet, and you folks need to get your minds right out of the gutter.
I made jelly. Mint jelly to be precise. A friend from church was cleaning out a mint bed and I asked if I could get some of the mint to make jelly. Before I even got the large bunch of fragrant stems, I had to buy jars, lids and rings, sugar, pectin and a canning funnel.
Then I had to strip the leaves off the stems, chop them and make a mint infusion, which would be one of the basic ingredients of the jelly. This involved 4 1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of packed mint. Once the water came to a boil, I covered the pot, took it off the heat and let it sit for ten minutes. Then I added green food coloring so it will actually look palatable (otherwise it would looke like muddy water jelly). Making the infusion was enough work for one night, but boy did my apartment smell good.
The next night I got down to business and began the actual jelly making process. I waited til night since you have to cook this and I didn't want to add more heat to my apartment when it was 90+ outside.
Before I began the actual jelly, I had to prepare the jars by washing them and then leaving them in the sink in boiling water. Next I had to put the lids and rings in a pan of boiling water. Then I measured out 5 cups of sugar and set it aside. I put 4 cups of infusion in a large pot, added a box of fruit pectin and brought it to a boil. Then I stirred in the sugar, brought it to a full rolling boil (meaning you can't dissipate it by stirring) and continued to stir for exactly one minute.
The next part is like those plate juggling acts you use to see on TV. I had to pull the jars out of the water and set them on a towel. I ladled the hot mixture into the jars, leaving 1/8 of an inch of head room, pull a lid from the pot and put on the jar and then screw a ring on it. Oh, and before adding the lid and ring, I had to wipe off the mouth of the jar to make sure nothing would interfere with the lid sealing properly.
Once that was done, then I sat back and listened. Before long I heard the first "pop" indicating a jar had sealed. In succession, the remaining jars popped and voila, my jelly was done.
Somewhere in the middle of all that I realized the art of jelly making is a little like writing.
There was GMC. My goal? To have jars of jelly. My motivation? How great it is with lamb (or in my case, pork, which I fondly refer to as faux lamb). And the conflict? The whole darn process of making jelly.
The ingredients were like characters and setting. They had to be just right or I'd end up with a mess. Too much sugar and the jelly would be too thin. Too little and it's prone to fermentation. Sorta like backstory, I thought. You can over or under cook, use too much or too little pectin, and have bad jars or lids. That is kinda like plot and pacing and characterization.
If you've ever made jelly, you understand what I'm talking about. If not, just take my word for it. Like writing a story, it's a delicate mix and balance of all the parts, and once it's done, you have to let it set and seal (or in the case of a book, sell hopefully).
Here's a picture of the finished product. I know some folks who'll be getting mint jelly for Christmas!
And just like no two stories turn out exactly the same, no two batches of jelly turn out exactly alike. I added a little more food coloring to one batch so the end product is a more vibrant green.
Anybody else ever make jelly? Does the analogy to writing make sense to you?
*And before my mother chimes in and tells you, I'll admit that I won the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award my senior year in high school despite not being able to do much more than sew a straight seam and boil water. It was a written test. I just had to know what escarole was, not do anything with it.