MULTITASKING – BAKING OATMEAL COOKIES AND MAKING POMEGRANATE JELLY

It started with mixing up a batch of oatmeal cookie dough last night. I got that mixed and decided I had enough for the day/night so I covered the dough with a kitchen towel and a plate.  First thing this morning, I thought – I need to get these cookies baked (I didn’t want to refrigerate the cookie dough—I find it affects the spreading of the cookies too much (that is, they don’t always spread enough) and then I thought oh, I need to get my pomegranate jelly made. (Reason I was in such a hurry this morning is because I am having a tree-trimming party tomorrow and serving Cincinnati chili to my guests – mostly young adults—but wanted to have something for each of them to take home—like a jar of jelly!).

I had four big jars of pomegranate juice made up from the fifty-something pomegranates Kelly & I picked from the tree belonging to a friend of his. A word about pomegranates: this is not the easiest fruit to work with.  Bob used to ream them with an electric juicer which was very messy and also very wasteful. I did some Google searching a few years ago and decided that instructions for “shelling” the fruit under water sounded best to me. So, I have been doing it this way for a few years. You cut an X in one end of the fruit and then hold it under cold water and break the pieces apart, removing the tough skin and membranes, leaving just the ruby red fruit. Strain and bag into ziplock bags – you are ready to eat the pomegranate or do something else with it. I have found  that mashing it with my hands, while it’s in the ziplock bag, works pretty well. You can use a rolling pin or you can just press down hard on the bag with the palm of your hand, until the juices begin to run. Then you strain it and you have pomegranate juice (You can also buy pomegranate juice in the supermarket nowadays but it’s kind of expensive) – besides which, I live in California where pomegranates grow. In our Arleta house, we had 3 pomegranate trees but it was a battle between us and the squirrels, to see who got the most fruit.  It’s helpful to have a friend with a pomegranate tree!  (Since moving to the high desert in 2008, we have planted 2 pomegranate trees (which the nursery insists on calling bushes).

Well, it took me about 2 weeks to “do” most of the pomegranates. I gave a few of the fruit to my sister for my nephew to eat, and I saved four of them to give to my Oregon penpal when she comes to visit. (Kelly and I weighed the basket of fruit – I had 51 pounds of pomegranates).

One of my blog readers was interested in making pomegranate jelly and I winged a response, not having made it for a few years and – to tell the truth, I’m not sure I even have directions for making pomegranate jelly written down anywhere.  So, Sharon, this one’s for you.

First, I buy the Ball low sugar/no sugar powdered pectin at Walmart. I think Sure-Jel also makes a low sugar/no sugar product but it’s kind of expensive for my pocket book. (It shocks me how much the price of pectin has gone up over the past few years). But Ball makes a product that Walmart sells (probably other places do as well) – and 3 tablespoons of this powder is equal to one of the old boxes of powdered low sugar/no sugar pectin.

When you are ready to make the jelly, let the juice come to room temperature (otherwise the powdered pectin will clump). Measure 4 cups of juice into a large pot (I use my 5 qt stainless pressure cooker pot – leave the lid off – and give the juice just a squirt of lemon juice. Add three tablespoons of powdered pectin and give it a whisk or two to dissolve. Add half a teaspoon of butter to the juice (this reduces the foam or scum or whatever you want to call it, from forming. I had NO foam or scum to skim off the juice when it had become jelly). Now you are ready to start heating the juice over a medium to high flame on the stove—have ready 2 cups of sugar and 4 8-oz jelly jars that have been washed in soapy water and then scalded in boiling water.  (OR – if you don’t plan on sealing the jars of jelly but just want to keep it in the frig to eat, use any small jars you may have saved – wash them well and have them ready to pour the jelly into – OR if you don’t want to seal the jars but don’t want to eat it immediately – you can do the old fashioned way of melting some paraffin wax to pour on top of the jelly once it has been poured into a jar.  Too much information? A fourth option is to freeze your jelly in some plastic containers but plan to eat it within a few months.

I am telling you all of this because maybe you don’t want to get that involved in jelly making. I have been making jellies and jams since my kids were toddlers (a very long time ago) and back then, I poured the jelly or jam into washed, scalded baby food jars – with a little melted paraffin on top, the lid replaced over that – it worked reasonably well. (I didn’t poison anyone). Eventually I graduated to really canning and it became a hobby (in fact, Bob & I entered canned foods into the Los Angeles county fair for about a decade and were proud of our blue ribbons!) – a case of canning jars will cost you about $9.00. the 8-ounce size jars are what you want.  (However, when I am canning jams or jellies JUST for family, I often put it into pint-size jars—especially when I am making strawberry jam and even when strawberries are in season, you are still paying for the berries, the sugar, the pectin, et al). When my sons were young boys, I would can grape jelly in QUART jars. I kid you not. It was the only kind of jelly they all liked.  (You know what they say about a prophet in his own town—it’s the same thing with a mother who likes making unique and unusual jellies and jams—your friends will love you for it, but your children won’t taste it for love or money. The first thing they always say to me is “What’s IN this?” (They still do).

If you are using canning jars, put the flat lids in a small pot, add water, and bring them to a boil. Let them cook for about 5 minutes and then just keep the water hot. This softens the seal on the lids so that when you put them onto the jelly jars and screw on the rings, you will get a firm seal.  I just wash the rings in soapy water and have them ready and waiting.

And while my sons like the pomegranate jelly, grape is probably still their universal favorite. But I can tell you unequivocally that my friends’ children LOVE my pomegranate jelly and if I give each one of them just one 8 ounce jar of jelly, you would think they’d gotten the queen’s jewels.

Well, I digress. Where were we?  You were heating up the 4 cups of pomegranate juice that you have doused with a squirt of lemon juice and the three tablespoons of powdered pectin and tossed in half a teaspoon of butter – and brought it to a boil. When it comes to a hard boil (a boil that can’t be stirred down), then dump in 2 cups of sugar all at one time. Now, the amount of sugar you add is entirely up to you. If you want a sweeter jelly, add 3 cups of sugar. If you want it to be tarter, reduce it to 1 or 1 ½ cups of sugar. But I find that 2 cups of sugar is perfect – it’s a little tart but the flavor of the pomegranate is there. The beauty of using a low sugar/no sugar pectin is that you control the amount of sugar that goes into it.

Stir the contents of the pot to dissolve the sugar, and bring it back to a boil.  Boil it for a minute or two – when you dip in a spoon and lift it out of the pot, the jelly should “sheet” off instead of just dripping off. However, that being said, the jelly I was making this morning, didn’t “sheet” off and I probably over-boiled the first batch—what I discovered is that the juice thickens into jelly as it cools. I was really uncertain that it was going to work right until it cooled – and every jar had thickened into a nice jelly. I hope this isn’t too much information!

Once I got into the rhythm of the jelly making, I was off and running – I poured the jelly from the pot into a quart size glass measuring cup to pour into the jelly jars that are hot and waiting—it’s much easier to pour this way and it avoids drips. You should wipe the rims of the jars off with a clean wet cloth to make sure nothing has spilled, place the lids on the jars, then the rings and tighten the rings (another new discovery – a pair of inexpensive rubber gloves are SO great for doing all of this without burning your fingers).  Now, most instruction booklets tell you to put the filled jars into a boiling water bath for 5 minutes but I have been skipping this step – the jars have been boiled, the lids have been boiled, the jelly has been boiled – I figure if the jars SEAL they are ok. You will know they have sealed if you hear a “ping” as each jar cools and forms a vacuum. The lid should be flat – if there is something like a bubble on the lid, it hasn’t sealed properly – just put it into the frig and use it in a reasonable amount of time.

Well, another way of learning how to do all of this is to buy the Ball blue book of canning and preserving – also sold at Walmart where the canning supplies are.  I began collecting canning/preserving/jelly and jam making cookbooks about twenty years ago and love some of the very old Ball and Kerr canning booklets from years ago.

So, Sharon, I hope this works for you.  And here is my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe, the one I was making this morning while making pomegranate jelly at the same time.

To make my favorite oatmeal cookies you will need

2 cups sifted flour

1 ½ tsp baking soda

2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

Dash ground cloves

2 2/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar (or a combination of white sugar and brown sugar to make two and two thirds cups)

4 eggs

1 ½ cups butter flavored Crisco shortening

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups uncooked oats (can be a combination of old fashioned or quick – I like old fashioned)

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Stir together flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Now add shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in oats, raisins and nuts. Drop by heaping teaspoon onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven about 12 minutes (I start checking at 10 minutes). Makes about 6 dozen depending on size.  Avoid overbaking!

Happy Holiday Baking and Jelly making!

Sandy

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2 responses to “MULTITASKING – BAKING OATMEAL COOKIES AND MAKING POMEGRANATE JELLY

  1. Thank you so much for this entire post. The pom jelly recipe sounds very dooable and oatmeal cookies are my favorites. Can I use real butter rather than butter flavored Frisco? Thanks,
    Sharon

  2. Thanks for writing, Sharon. I just finished getting my jars of pomegranate jelly labeled. Hope your jelly turns out great!. Yes, you can use butter in the cookies instead of Crisco–I generally bake just using butter–BUT this cookie was originally made with Crisco and to get the ruight spreading consistency, I went back to Crisco on the last few batches. There are many kinds of oatmeal cookies – crunchy, soft, thin, crispy–what kind do you like the most? I have a thin, crispy one (made with butter) that I love–I can eat the entire batch by myself–and they are delectable dipped in melted chocolate for the holidays. let me know what you like most in an oatmeal cookie.

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