It has been years since I canned or preserved anything. Back in what my children call my "earth mother" days, I sewed, canned and occasionally even cooked a real meal.
But it's been years since I've "put up" any of the Yakima Valley's wonderful produce. I think I quit because I finally realized I would never be a true domestic goddess. I was always in too big of a hurry to really enjoy cooking and the canning process. Rushing is definitely not recommended when canning tomatoes or when making jellies and jams.
In my youth, my jam and jelly making efforts never really turned out well. But something must have changed during my hiatus from the domestic arts.
On a whim last fall I took the hint from a friend to make some jelly. Together, we collected grapes, apples and a near forgotten fruit known as quince. It was his idea to make some quince jelly like he remembered tasting as a child.
Game to try my hand, I searched for jelly recipes using the strange looking apple-like fruit. After much research, I found a recipe in an old cookbook of another friend. Meanwhile we got caught up in the notion of making grape juice and jelly till we had jars of both covering every counter of my kitchen.
When the quince were ready, we decided to blend the quince juice with fresh apple juice. The result was a beautiful, amber colored jelly with an almost honey-like consistency. I thought it looked pretty, he thought it tasted good and everyone was happy.
I received a lot of compliments from those who were given my grape jelly at Christmas and some have even asked for more. Those who received a jar of apple-quince jelly were equally impressed.
Now that should be enough of an ego building exercise, right? Well yeah, you'd think so.
But a few weeks ago I got a crazy notion, while writing some stories about the Yakima Valley Fair and Rodeo, that I should enter my jelly and my friend's pickled asparagus in the fair. It was a chance to see who would get the bragging rights for their specialties.
I am now the proud holder of a giant pink reserve grand champion ribbon from the Yakima Valley Fair and Rodeo for my apple quince jelly and another pink best of show for my grape jelly.
My friend got a red ribbon for his cherry preserves. I still think he should have gotten a blue ribbon for his preserves, but the judges said his jar was not up to USDA standards. It is a cute, old- fashioned glass jar that takes a rubber ring to seal the food inside. He did get a nice blue ribbon for his really great pickled asparagus.
I'm still in shock at my beginner's luck at the fair. Being chosen as a ribbon winner has jump started my urge to put up more Valley produce. I imagine I'll soon be canning some of my nice, red tomatoes for winter.
As for my friend, he gets all of the bragging rights for the quince jelly's reserve champion ribbon, after all it was his idea. I'm pretty sure he is already planning for another season of quince jelly. No problem. This year we've got a proven recipe for success.