Every half-empty jar in the refrigerator must be used, I decided when I embarked on spring cleaning last weekend. And that includes the jelly.
My friend Butter, who makes the best plum-and-guajillo-chili fruit leather imaginable, recommends upcycling jams into fruit leather. “All you have to do is mix it 1:3 (jam: apple) with apple puree,” she writes. Then you spread it thin and dehydrate it—either in direct sun, a dehydrator, or the oven set on low heat.
Finding myself in possession of several half-used jars of jelly, and with a sudden bank of time at my disposal, I decided to put her jelly tip to the test. The oven seemed the only feasible option to me—that and the top of the fake fireplace, which we sometimes turn on but otherwise remains warm from the heat of the pilot light.
Instead of apple puree—as I was unable to avail myself of feral apples last year—I used store-bought applesauce. I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t care. This is valuable practice for what I hope will be a stellar apple season, or even crabapple season, as I will be newly armed with a Foley food mill (thanks to my industrious mom who found me one) to separate the skins and seeds from tiny apples once and for all.
Four Wild Flavors
First, I made two versions of wild grape-and-apple fruit rollups using two versions of gifted wild grape jellies. Knowing that Gregg is not a big fruit fan, I cut some tiny pieces from one of them and painstakingly wrapped them around chocolate chips, to serve to Gregg as if they were some sort of gourmet candies. He liked everything except the fruit leather.
Then I made a fruit roll with Queen Anne’s lace jelly—another gift, made from the flowers of “QAL” or wild carrot by my friend Butter at Hunger and Thirst. I hope this goes without saying, but the Queen Anne’s lace, which she has cultivated in her back yard, is the species Daucus carota, and not the deadly poisonous poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) that is sometimes referred to by the same common name. (See the Wild Carrot chapter in Nature’s Garden, 2010, by Samuel Thayer for a great side-by-side comparison of the two plants.)
To my surprise, Gregg actually liked the Queen Anne’s lace-and-applesauce fruit leather, commenting that it most closely resembled the fruit rollups he knows from childhood. And that was after I burnt the first one by setting the oven to warm while the leather was inside, but then forgetting to turn it back off again after 10 minutes. Generally I have been putting the fruit purees, spread thin on oven paper on a cookie sheet, in the oven after I’ve turned it off but it’s still warm from dinner. Occasionally, however, I try to hasten the process and turn it on low for like 5-10 minutes. This works when I set an alarm to remind myself to turn it off, but not so well when I don’t.
Still, the undamaged part that Gregg tasted was a hit—or so I thought. I was pleased it solidified because the liquid I used was the thinnest of the jelly batters yet. So I finished the giant jar of QAL jelly from Butter in a subsequent batch, and I am currently trying very hard to be patient about drying the three new trays so that I don’t accidentally burn them too.
After using up all our open jars of wild jelly, I acquiesced and made a tray with Welch’s Concord Grape jelly that I found in the fridge. That officially finishes all of the applesauce as well as all open containers of jelly in our refrigerator—except for a thoroughly unappetizing plastic squeeze bottle of purple jelly I found on the door, which also happens to be Welch’s Concord Grape.
Hello? Who is the Welch’s Concord Grape jelly fairy who keeps leaving bottles of jelly in my refrigerator when we have so many other kinds of delicious wild jelly in the cupboard? Identify yourself. We need to talk.
Dried Fruit is Weird
Yesterday I packed a fanciful wild picnic lunch and took my guy, who has been on crutches for three weeks now, on a picnic along the river. I thought he’d be pleased when I busted out a fruit leather made with QAL jelly and applesauce. But he took a bite and screwed up his face something fierce and emitted an apparently involuntary “Oh man!”
“What?” I asked.
“It’s weird food,” he replied.
“What is weird food?”
“That’s a change from what you said about it yesterday,” I pointed out.
“What are you talking about?” he asked. “My comment that yesterday’s was the closest you’d come to fruit rollups as I remember them from my childhood?”
“Well I never like fruit rollups,” he said.
I shot him a bemused glance but chose to ignore the last comment. Instead I asked, “You know what I need next? I need wild food cookie cutter shapes to cut the fruit leather into fun shapes for children.”
If you would like more ideas on what to do with your wild jellies, couched in a humorous story of family fun and wild food, check out the March 2014 issue of the Wild Edible Notebook. The magazine subscription is $2/month. Thanks in advance for supporting a random wild girl’s random wild project!
Related Hot Links & Resources:
- http://hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.com/2012/09/fruit-leather.html – This is a fruit-leather-making post from Butter. Great ideas for flavors and techniques.
- http://foragersharvest.com/making-your-own-apple-pectin – Because why not?
- In The Forager’s Harvest (2006), Sam Thayer describes how he makes fruit leather in the field, in the sun.