Taming The Monster Rhubarb

After my post on Monster Rhubarb!, I received several responses as to whether or not this was a good sign or the end of my rhubarb for the season before it actually began.  I read up on it a bit, as I had no idea it wasn’t supposed to flower (or seed in this case) and found out all was not lost.

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In order to salvage the rhubarb that was growing and to encourage new growth throughout the next month or so, all I had to do was cut back the flowers/seeds.

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The reason my plants went to seed so quickly was probably due to the unseasonably warm weather we were experiencing. Other reasons could be:

  1. Maturity: The older a plant, the more often it will go to seed. This is the second year for my rhubarb, so I doubt maturity was a factor.
  2. Variety:  Certain varieties of rhubarb plants seed more often than others.  I have no idea what type of rhubarb I have so this could be a factor, but who knows.
  3. Stress:  If rhubarb suffers lack of water, animal damage, pests, or nutrient deprivation, it can cause it to seed.  None of these were a factor with my plants.

Apparently going to seed isn’t always a bad thing, because in my case it proves my plants are healthy.  The reason I want to cut the seed stalks off though is because once it goes to seed, the plant stops producing new usable stalks of rhubarb.  I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on these plants for the next month or so just so I can get as much home-grown rhubarb as possible. After cutting the flowering stalks back, a few days later there were again flowering stalks protruding from the plants.  I quickly snipped these away.

I love gardening and although I have a lot to learn, the learning process is one of the things I love most about it, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Monster Rhubarb!

Last spring I planted two little plants of rhubarb on the side of the house, hoping that in a year or two I’d have enough rhubarb to harvest for canning.

Here is the rhubarb three weeks ago:

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Here it is two weeks ago:

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This is what the rhubarb looked like five days ago:

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This is what it looks like today!

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At this rate, it should be taller than house by the end of June.  Looks like there will be rhubarb for canning, and for this I am — Simply Grateful!

Cherry-Berry Canning

This morning Zeb and I spent several hours in the kitchen whipping up a few new recipes using some of the tart cherries we picked this past weekend. It amazes me how much faster everything goes when you have a helper.

The first recipe I wanted to work on was one using cherries and blueberries. I have several packages of frozen blueberries from last years season left and with blueberry season approaching, I figured it was a good time to clear out the old to make room for the new.

Several times a year I make Belguim waffles for breakfast, serving them with a mixed berry topping. The preserves I made today is similar and I think I could even use it in a pinch if Zeb or Grace want a special treat on a frozen waffle. (Yes, I am guilty of occasionally buying them a package of those large-corporation, heavily processed frozen waffles. When I do though Grace is sure to tease me and say, “Mom, make me a waffle like only you can make.” No one can toast a frozen waffle like dear old Ma!)

Cherry-Berry Preserves

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3 Cups Pitted Tart Cherries
3 Cups Packed Blueberries
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 Cups Sugar
4 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 C. Water

  • Combine cherries, blueberries, lemon juice, and sugar in large stock pot.

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  • Cook on medium-high until mixture begins to boil and blueberries begin to soften and burst.

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  • Using a potato masher, crush berries and cherries.
  • Add Clear Jel slurry and boil for 1 minute.

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  • Remove from heat, cool 5 minutes and ladle into hot jars leaving a 1“ head space.
  • Process 15 minutes in water bath canner.

This preserve was very thick. When I make it again I will decrease the Clear Jel to 3 Tbsp.

The second recipe Zeb and I worked on was one using some of the strawberry juice I froze from our strawberry picking a few weeks ago. The recipe that inspired this jam called for crushed berries, but I thought the strawberries would be too dominant a flavor if left whole. Also, I decreased the sugar by more than half, leaving this jam more on the tart side , but still more than sweet enough.

Red-On-Red Jam (Grace named this one)

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1 Pound Tart Cherries, pitted
1 Cup Strawberry Juice, strained
3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 Cups Sugar
3 Tbsp. Clear Jel mixed with 1/4 Cup Water

  • Place pitted cherries in large stock pot.

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  • Cook over medium heat, crushing with spoon as they heat.

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  • Add strawberry juice, lemon juice, sugar, and Clear Jel slurry.

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  • Bring to boil. Boil 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes, ladle into hot jars.
  • Process in water bath 10 minutes.

This jam was very tasty but next time I might try using 2 pounds of cherries, as the strawberry flavor was still dominant.

Zeb and I also worked on two other jams that need to sit overnight. When he tired of helping out in the kitchen, I set to work on cutting some rhubarb and made another batch of rhubarb pie filling. This will be wonderful to add to cherry, blueberry, or apple pies this winter.

Rhubarb Pie Filling

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10 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
3 Cups Sugar
2 Cups Water
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
3/4 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1 Cup Water

  • Blanch chopped rhubarb in boiling water 1 minute.
  • Drain, reserving 3 cups liquid to use in filling. Keep rhubarb warm in a covered bowl.
  • Combine sugar, 2 cups of reserved liquid, lemon juice, and Clear Jel slurry (using the remaining 1 cup of reserved liquid) in large stock pot.
  • Slowly bring to boil over medium heat. Boil 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in rhubarb.
  • Ladle into hot jars, leaving a 1“ head space.
  • Process 30 minutes in water bath canner at full boil.

It gives me such a sense of completion and security knowing that the pantry is filling up with lots of different home-canned goods. I cannot wait to start harvesting vegetables and the pantry to overflow (not that it isn’t already). Tomorrow it’s back to tart and sweet cherries, more rhubarb, and new recipes, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Michigan Cherries — I Nearly Missed Them

Freshly Picked Michigan Tart Cherries

Freshly Picked Michigan Tart Cherries

I’m not sure what’s worse. Getting information that’s wrong, or getting information too late.

A few weeks ago when I went strawberry picking I asked the orchard when Michigan tart cherries would be in. They told me not until mid-July. I also asked them how the crop looked. They told me it looked pretty good.

Yesterday I got an email from the orchard, thank goodness I’m on their email list, announcing that Michigan cherries had been hit very hard by the harsh winter. Because of this, there would be no sweet cherries this year and tart cherry season would open today. Further, they stated that tart cherries would be open for only a few days.

So much for any plans I had today. Immediately upon reading the email, I told the kids we were getting up early, heading out to the orchard and picking what we could. My goal was 30 pounds but the way they made it sound, I’d be lucky to get enough for a pie!

With bad news, there is always something good though. When we reached the orchard this morning I asked if they still were picking rhubarb. Yes! No matter what then, I knew this wasn’t going to be a wasted trip.

We hit the rhubarb field first and picked about 20 pounds of what was left. It was not as easy picking as it had been just a few weeks ago, but the stalks were red and firm, so I can’t complain. Now I can make all those other recipes with rhubarb that I never got to because I hadn’t bought enough. This will be frozen however, so I can concentrate on the cherries.

Arriving at the cherry trees, I was surprised to find the trees as full as they were. The cherries were bigger than they had been last year, but not as clustered. It took the three of us nearly three hours to pick 26 pounds. A bit shy of my goal, but beggars can’t be choosy.

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As for sweet cherries? A local super market had these on sale this week for $1.98 a pound. We stopped off on our way home from the orchard and bought 11 pounds. I don’t need to make sweet cherry jam or jelly this year, but there are some new recipes using sweet cherries that I’d like to try.

With so much fresh fruit to deal with, I got started the minute I got home stemming and pitting cherries. With seven pounds of tart cherries I canned cherry pie filling. I plan on making at least another batch, perhaps two, depending on how far the 26 pounds we picked goes.

Cherry Pie Filling

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7 Pounds Fresh Sour Cherries
3 Cups Sugar
3/4 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4+ Water
4 Cups Cherry Water (see note)
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

Rinse and pit cherries.

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Blanch cherries in boiling water for one minute.

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Drain, reserving juice, and keep heated in covered stock pot.

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Combine Clear Jel slurry, lemon juice and sugar in stock with 4 cups of the reserved juice from the blanching. Bring to boil over medium-high heat until it thickens and bubbles. Fold in drained cherries.

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Fill jars with filling, leaving a one-inch head space. Adjust lids and process in water bath for 25 minutes.

For this recipe the yield was 7 pints and one quart.

Although the information I received about Michigan cherries a few weeks ago was wrong, at least I didn’t miss cherry picking entirely like I would have had I not received that email. Fresh tart cherries for pies, tarts, turnovers, pastries, and Belgium waffles, for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

A Summer Passing – Rhubarb & Strawberries Farewell

The humidity is not letting up here in eastern Michigan and the temperatures are at or above 90° depending how many clouds block out the sun. My cucumbers are climbing the a-frame and some tomatoes are showing the first signs of orange.

 

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Roma Tomatoes

Roma Tomatoes

The plum tree is so thick with leaves that finding any plums is a challenge, but they are in there and getting big. Hubby’s been eating them green, but I’m waiting for August when they’ll be ripe and purple.

It’s hard to believe that July is upon us and half the year is gone. In just a few months the winds will start to howl from the north and bring fall and all it’s beauty to our doorstep. With fall comes harvest, which based on the heat and humidity plaguing our days, should be bountiful. The sweet potatoes are spreading, the beets are flourishing, the peppers are blooming, and the kale is thick and lush.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Beets

Beets

Peppers

Peppers

Kale

Kale

Strawberry season is coming to an end far too soon. I wish the sweet ripe berries could last longer than a few glorious weeks.

My strawberry plants

My strawberry plants

Rhubarb, too is starting to wilt. Be it the heat, the humidity or just it’s time, I fear these two will soon be gone for another year. My rhubarb is still small and young and I have no idea what to do with it. Not having grown it before, I’m wondering if I should harvest the tiny stalks or leave them until next year. My plants are nothing like the huge plants I harvested out at the orchard. Do I cut them down to the ground or leave them be until next year?

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

With some of the rhubarb I picked a few weeks ago I made a luscious Rhubarb-Pineapple Jam that truly was the best of both worlds — tart yet sweet.

Rhubarb-Pineapple Jam

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4 Cups Finely Chopped Rhubarb
1 Whole Pineapple Pureed
4 Cups Sugar
5 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 1/2 Cup Water

Combine rhubarb, pineapple, and sugar in large stock pot. Add Clear Jel dissolved in water. Bring to low boil and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often. Increase heat and boil hard for one minute. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space, seal and screw on bands. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes.

The end of the week should bring some relief from the heat and maybe once again we can bask in the glory of summer instead of hiding out in the air-conditioned house. There is much to be done before fall, many days to enjoy, activities to pursue, and places to go. As winter was unrelenting and confining, so too has summer become — but this too shall pass, I’m sure of it, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

“To Die For” Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie and Filling

Trying new foods, especially when it comes to canning, is one of my favorite things to do. I can’t say that I’ve always been open to trying new food though. As a child my parents were hard-pressed to get me to eat anything other than hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly, and chocolate. I hated everything and refused to even try most of what my mother put on my plate.

Over the years I’ve mellowed. Probably the main reason for this was when I began dating I was embarrassed by the fact that there was never anything that I could actually say I liked on the menu. On the first date with my now hubby, he took me to Greek Town in downtown Detroit and ordered gyros for me. Lamb (I had no idea what it was until after he’d ordered it for me)! I choked every bit of it down, claiming the entire time that it was wonderful. To my dismay, hubby then began taking me there at least once a month and each and every time I ate what was put in front of me too afraid to say that I didn’t like it. By the end of our first year of dating, I acquired a taste for lamb and many other foods that I forced myself to eat in order to save face in front of my would-be hubby, his parents, and his friends. What a girl has to go through!

Now-a-days there are not too many things I won’t eat, although I am not partial to seafood and raw tomatoes on anything or by themselves give me hives, literally. Besides that, I do try to keep an open mind and have found that some of the foods that I sat at the kitchen table staring at on my plate for hours after everyone else had finished eating refusing to touch as a child, are actually really good.

Every year I try to find at least one or two new foods to try, be it in a dinner recipe or a new canning recipe. Not everything I’ve tried has been “to die for”, some in fact I doubt I’ll actually ever eat again, but every once in a while I discover something that I’m sorry I didn’t try sooner.  So far this year guava, marmalade, and most recently rhubarb fall in the “to die for” category — especially Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie.

Fresh deep-dish Strawberry Pie has been part of my recipe collection for at least the past twenty-five years. My mother never made it while I lived at home, she was not a pie maker. Whenever my father had a hankering for it he either went to Big Boy or Baker’s Square. Never one to turn away from a challenge, I began making homemade strawberry pies as soon as I moved out on my own and taught myself to cook and bake. I especially loved making things that my father enjoyed because he was always willing to try everything I made. There were very few things he didn’t absolutely love, so this was all the inspiration I needed to keep me cooking — that and my desire to impress my would-be hubby with my ever-expanding culinary skills.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie was one of my father’s favorites, but rhubarb to me was exotic and scary. Because of it’s similar structure to celery, and my continuing dislike of that, rhubarb was one of those things I could never bring myself to cooking with. Finally though, after reading several blogs with tempting recipes using rhubarb, my continuing desire to want to put-up everything and anything I possibly can, and my father mentioning to me in passing that he was going to have to go out and find someplace to get some fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie now that strawberry season was upon us, I had to finally break down and try it.

I am proud to tell you, my father will never again have to eat store-bought, restaurant made, or chemically processed strawberry-rhubarb pie again. I made one last weekend when we celebrated Father’s Day with him. I had him over for breakfast, and for dessert (I truly believe that every meal should have dessert) I gave him the first slice of the first strawberry-rhubarb pie I ever made. He loved it. He could not say enough about it. His only comment other than it was perfect was that it would be even better when it was cold (I served it about an hour after it had come out of the oven).

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Okay, so this is the only picture I got of the pie before it was gone -- before I cooked it!

Okay, so this is the only picture I got of the pie before it was gone — before I cooked it!

3 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
4 Cups Sliced Strawberries
1 Cup Sugar
3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1 Cup Water
Pie Crust

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Place in unbaked pie shell and cover with top crust. Cover pie with foil. Bake in 425° oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil, turn oven down to 350° and continue cooking another 20 – 25 minutes till golden brown.

Because the pie turned out so well and everyone loved it, I had to make some Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling and can it so we will be able to enjoy fresh pies all winter long. Here is the recipe.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling

I'll use one quart and one pint jar of filling for a 9" pie.

I’ll use one quart and one pint jar of filling for a 9″ pie.

9 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
12 Cups Sliced Strawberries
3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 1/2 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 2 Cups Water
1 Additional Cup of Water

Chop rhubarb and slice strawberries. Combine fruit in pan and mix in sugar. Add lemon juice, Clear Jel dissolved in 2 cups water and additional one cup of water. Bring to a boil slowly over medium-high heat. Boil for one minute. Ladle into hot jars, remove air bubbles, seal and process in water-bath canner for 25 minutes.

To use: Empty jar of pie filling into prepared crust. Top with crust, seal edges, and bake as above pie recipe.

I am so happy that rhubarb turned out to be one of those “to die for” foods that although I might regret not trying sooner, is now a family favorite. The pie I made was gone within 24 hours and already hubby is asking when I’m making another. The pantry has enough filling for nine pies over the next year, so I think I’ll have to buy a few more stalks of fresh rhubarb this weekend at the fruit market before it is gone for another year and make one more pie before cherries are ready for picking and cherry pie will be on hubby’s mind. I planted two of my own rhubarb plants this past spring so next year I’ll be harvesting home-grown rhubarb to can, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Summer Canning Basics – Strawberry & Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

Driving out to Blake’s Big Apple in Armada a little over a week ago to pick fresh Michigan strawberries, I could hardly wait to taste that first berry. Capturing that sweet flavor and canning it to enjoy all through the winter, I knew Strawberry Jam was at the top of my canning list. Last year I canned one batch of strawberry jam and one batch of strawberry jelly and ran out of both before the winter was half over. This year I was bound and determined not to allow that to happen.

Besides plain strawberry jam, I decided to try working with rhubarb. I am not a celery fan and because rhubarb resembles celery in looks, I had never tried it, let alone cooked with it. What a shame. After I got my first tart taste of rhubarb blended with the sweet strawberries, I was sorry I’d only bought four bundles of rhubarb while at Blake’s. This led to another trip to Blake’s a few days later and picking nearly 10 pounds of it, which actually turned out not to be enough. Next year I’ll pick at least 20 pounds, as I didn’t get to half of the rhubarb recipes I wanted to try.

Using Clear Jel as my thickener worked out great. I might increase the Clear Jel slightly for the strawberry jam, but the second version of the strawberry-rhubarb jam the amount was perfect. I made two versions of the strawberry-rhubarb because the strawberry flavor was too overwhelming in the first. The second version is much tarter and the rhubarb flavor was far more intense. Here are my recipes.

Strawberry Jam

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8 Cups Sliced Strawberries = 5 1/2 Cups Crushed
5 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
5 Tablespoons Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 Cup Water

Crush berries in large stock pot.
Add sugar, lemon juice, and dissolved Clear Jel.
Bring slowly to a boil.
Boil for one minute.
Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
Pack into hot jars, seal and boil in water bath for 10 minutes.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (Version 1)

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2 1/2 Cups Crushed Strawberries
1 3/4 Cups Chopped Rhubarb (I dice mine)
5 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
5 Tablespoons Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 Cup Water

Crush berries in large stock pot.
Dice Rhubarb.

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Combine strawberries and rhubarb.
Add sugar, lemon juice, and dissolved Clear Jel.

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Bring slowly to a boil.
Boil for one minute.
Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
Pack into hot jars, seal and boil in water bath for 10 minutes.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (Version 2 – Tart)

3 Cups Crushed Strawberries
3 Chopped Rhubarb (I dice mine)
4 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
5 Tablespoons Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 Cup Water

Crush berries in large stock pot.
Dice Rhubarb.
Combine strawberries and rhubarb.
Add sugar, lemon juice, and dissolved Clear Jel.
Bring slowly to a boil.
Boil for one minute.
Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
Pack into hot jars, seal and boil in water bath for 10 minutes.

I can’t believe I waited more than 45 years to try rhubarb. Why oh why was I so closed-minded? Well, I am definitely going to remedy this, starting this year. With two batches of strawberry-rhubarb jam in the pantry, we should be set for the winter. Plus, I just had to make a strawberry-rhubarb pie which then led to canning strawberry-rhubarb pie filling, those recipes coming tomorrow. Thanks Caitlin from The Babbling Botanist (http://thebabblingbotanist.com/2014/04/21/strawberry-rhubarb-jam/) for your recipes using rhubarb which inspired me to give this a try, for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Clear Jel is the Clear Winner

For the past seven days I have been picking, cleaning, cutting, crushing, juicing, slicing, cooking, and canning. Fifteen recipes, later I think I am due a break!

My next few posts will consist of mostly just the recipes and pictures I took while working in the kitchen. I’d put them all in one post, but that would be rather cumbersome to read not to mention write. For now, here is a list of the recipes to follow that will eventually have a link attached.

Strawberry Jam (no big surprise there)
Strawberry-Raspberry Lime Marmalade
Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam (2 versions)
Crushed Strawberry Syrup
Strawberry Sauce
Strawberry Lemonade Marmalade
Blackberry-Strawberry Seedless Spread
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling
Rhubarb Pie Filling
Rhubarb-Pineapple Jam
Fruit Leather (3 types: Strawberry, Plum, and Pineapple)
Mixed Summer Berry Lemonade Concentrate
Tropical Paradise Jam
Apple Pie Filling
Cinnamon Glaze

I think that’s all of them, but I won’t really know until I got through my pictures and recipes that are stacked on the kitchen counter in the “DONE” pile. There were several recipes for rhubarb that I didn’t get to because all I have left are four lonely stalks standing in a vase of water on the counter. Not enough to do much of anything with — but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

One thing that I discovered through all this canning and cooking is hands down Clear Jel is the absolute best thickening agent for jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, fillings, etc. No matter how much or how little I put in, everything jelled enough. Some times I might have wanted a little firmer set or perhaps a little softer, but it was still jelled. Even the firmest set jam I made, that doesn’t move when you tip the bottle upside down, is soft and spreadable.

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Plus, unlike when using pectin where you are not able to alter the amounts of sugar without risking the results being too watery or unspreadable, I changed the amounts of sugar in nearly every recipe I had in order to make the final flavors what my family likes. Some are tarter and some are sweeter. Clear Jel’s setting is not contingent on how much sugar is in the recipe.

Finally, the price factor. In order to make all the recipes I listed above, it would have cost me more than $30 in pectin. The canister of Clear Jel I have has enough left in it to make at least two or three more batches, plus I was able to make a triple batch of strawberry rhubarb pie filling and a double batch of apple pie filling. The cost for one canister was $20 including shipping. Economically speaking, I don’t know why I’d ever consider going back to pectin.

It’s been a fun week of canning, but I am happy to have my kitchen clear of all my canning supplies, jars, recipes, and fruit, even if it is just for a few days. I’m already making plans for next weeks canning agenda, raspberries should be in any day now you know. For now though I am going to enjoy waking up tomorrow morning to a clean, clutter-free kitchen with no pressing canning to get done, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.