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Bending Reality to my Will - But I don't WANT to be innovative!

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June 18th, 2013

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10:55 am - But I don't WANT to be innovative!
Yesterday's housechilling party was all kinds of fun (yay!). I wonder if you can tell how successful a party was by how much cleanup you have to do afterwards? Probably not, but one of the things I had do deal with was the remainder of the enormous ripe casaba that Nick brought. My first thought was "sorbet!" but after I pureed some of it and gave it a taste, I don't think that will work very well. Like watermelon, the casaba has a very delicate flavor; it's quite watery. I think it will either freeze up solid or require way too much sugar, just like watermelon sorbet.

The solution with watermelon sorbet, by the way, is to add a teaspoon of ethanol, or two teaspoons of, say, vodka. The ethanol does what the sugar does: it's an antifreeze. The ethanol's just a lot more powerful than the sugar.

However, I don't have any Everclear in the pantry right now, so I went to Plan B: jelly or jam.

The canonical home canning text, the Ball Blue Book Of Preserving, does not have any recipes for melon jelly. WTH? (heck)

To make a successful jam or jelly, you need to get the pectin/sugar/water ratio right, and that varies from fruit to fruit. I need some kind of melon jelly recipe as a guide. Casaba is closely related to honeydew, but probably even a watermelon jelly recipe would work.

Apparently the concept of melon jelly is just mind-blowingly radical. There is absolutely nothing on the internet for casaba jelly. The only honeydew jelly recipe I found was in a blog by somebody who just made it up on the fly, and hers didn't set up. I'm guessing it's because she just swapped honeydew for the plums she used the very first time she made jam, and plums, being quite high in natural pectin, don't need any additional in order to set up.

I did find a watermelon jelly recipe from Marisa McClellan on a blog entitled "Food in Jars." This is a blogger who specializes in home canning, and yet she posts that watermelon is something "I would [not] have even considered putting in my jam pot" except that somebody asked her for a watermelon jelly recipe. This lack of imagination is more startling when I found Apronstrings Blog sharing a "Honeydew Jam with Mint and Lime" recipe that was adapted from "Cantaloupe Jam with Mint and Lime" that the blogger found . . . in the "Food In Jars" book. Yes, the book was written by Marisa McClellan. So she's made cantaloupe jam, but would never have thought to make watermelon jelly?

Yea, I know I'm unusually creative. But good grief! How hard can it be to say "I have more [name any fruit you can imagine] than I can eat all at one sitting. What will I do with it?" and answer with something other than "Wrap it in plastic and put it in the refrigerator." And yet, if Google's results are to be believed, rarely has anybody (or at least, anybody who shares recipes online), even thought about trying to make watermelon jelly, and nobody has ever tried it with casaba.


I did find some related stuff that was pretty awesome, though. Marisa has obviously done a lot more than just parrot back instructions from other people. The overwhelming majority of home canners work via the "because they said so" principle. "You use that much sugar because the recipe says so." And it's extraordinarily rare that somebody *writing* a recipe knows enough about the science to tell you *why* a particular step is there. As a result, most people think that the sugar used in home canning fruit is there for flavor, and thus that it's no big deal to cut back if you think adding, say, five cups of sugar to six cups of fruit is excessive.

The "Food in Jars" blog is smarter than that. I already knew that sugar is critical for shelf life. As she notes, it's a preservative. It is aggressively hygroscopic, like salt. It's why you can store maple syrup in the cupboard without it going bad; the sugar concentration is really high. Bacteria and mold can't grow in the syrup because the water is sucked right out of them by the sugar; they actually get dehydrated.

What I *didn't* know is how it works to help jam set. I was aware that adding sugar changes the boiling point of water. Turns out that 220° F is the temp that sugar and pectin bond. Not enough sugar means you can't get the mix hot enough to trigger the bonding. Neat!

And, from "Local Kitchen" I come across the (in retrospect, terribly obvious) idea (also set forth by Marisa) that if you are going to experiment with making preserves out of fruits that you don't have an Officially Sanctioned recipe for, that you should test the pH. What water-bath canning doesn't kill is botulism spores. However, they are prevented from growing in a high-acid environment, where "high-acid" is pH 4.6 or below. The "Local Kitchen" blogger made honeydew melon jam (with forsythia and citrus!), and was ready to can when they remembered to test. The pH was around 6.0, so they froze it instead.

Since I do happen to have appropriate litmus paper handy, I can and shall do the appropriate testing. I found a comment on another site that said that one should use an electronic tester, because litmus paper wasn't accurate enough, but I am fairly confident that such a statement only makes sense if we're talking about the original wide-range stuff, that does its color-change from around 4 to 10 or so. I have some that reads 4-7, and then different paper for 6-11.

(3 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 19th, 2013 12:59 am (UTC)
oh man some of those recipes make my mouth water.
Watermelon is pretty much my favorite fruit. If you do
come up with THE PERFECT watermelon jam recipe,
let me know!

And I had a total blast - I have not actually been to a party and played a game
in YEARS. I am very much trying to be a real person again.

[User Picture]
Date:June 19th, 2013 07:22 am (UTC)
Well, if I can get casaba jelly to work, I'll certainly post it, and I don't see why you couldn't just swap in watermelon for the casaba. The tricky part is almost certainly going to be getting the acid level high enough.
[User Picture]
Date:June 19th, 2013 05:08 am (UTC)
Um.... You're welcome?

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