Partly because it's fun, and partly because we eat very little sugar and low-sugar alternatives are all full of gross chemicals, I've started (occasionally) canning jelly.
If this sounds impossibly daunting, I am there with you! Jellymaking is one of those things that I've always viewed with a kind of embarrassed terror otherwise reserved for driving in downtown New York City and those dreams where you show up at school or work and don't realize until way too late that you're naked.
That being said, do yourself a favor and try making jelly sometime. Regardless of the fact that I have now set my stove on fire twice while making jelly, I view it as one of the most rewarding projects I've ever completed.
Now, because we are solidly in the bleak midwinter and fresh fruit can be hard to come by (to say nothing of all the work involved), I recommend you start with an easy, no-fuss recipe like this one for grape jelly from store bought juice.
They say they're optional, but when you're just getting started I really can't recommend enough that you buy or obtain the pieces from a starter canning kit--tongs for removing jars from water, a funnel, etc. You can find jars and lids at Ace Hardware.
Which only leaves the question of the pectin.
I tried making jelly once with Sure-Jell. It was the pectin that the store was selling with the canning jars I bought. Why not? I thought to myself. Surely one pectin is like another. Right?
Wrong, past self. Oh, how wrong you were.
To make jelly with Sure-Jell and most other types of pectin, your recipe needs to have at least 50-60% sugar added to it. Otherwise the pectin won't activate and your jelly will be a very viscous and not very tasty or useful syrup. I found this out the hard way and ended up throwing out probably two gallons of potential jelly, and a full pound of sugar.
I also had a box of Pomona's Universal Pectin that I'd picked up at Whole Foods, so I girded up my loins and gave it a try.
Pomona's is activated by calcium powder (included in the package) instead of sugar. As a result, you can use it to make jelly with very little added sugar. You can even use it to make jelly with artificial sweeteners, honey, or just the natural sugars in concentrated fruit juice. That's right--no added sugar. I like things tart, so this is right up my alley.
Each box of Pomona's also comes with a handy dandy little insert that has recipes for multiple kinds of jam and jelly, both canned and frozen, from fresh fruit or from juice. It is very easy to use, works like a charm, and did I mention that you don't need to drown your fruit in sugar in order to get it to jell?
If you're ever going to give jelly a try, or already like to make jelly and want to cut sugar out of your recipe, get ahold of Pomona's. It's worth ordering online and waiting for if there are no local stores that carry it in your area (our Whole Foods only has it in stock during the late summer and early fall).
Remember, before you start canning or preserving things, to read up on proper hygiene and food safety. It's very easy to preserve food of all kinds at home (Mr. Scrimp will be writing an entry on charcuterie soon), but it's of huge importance to do it safely.
And now I think my stove has cooled down enough that I can scrape the charred, caramelized apple juice off the burner. Sigh.