Jelly-making in the Rockies

High altitude is great for crisp dry air, beautiful winter snow and alpine flowers. It is not good for baking, candy making or jelly making. I nearly fumbled the jelly this year by trying to follow the recipe. I don’t see any high-altitude directions, so assumed there weren’t any major differences. How wrong I was!

Trying to get the pectin, fruit juice and sugar to set at 220 Fahrenheit is next to impossible. Why? Water at this altitude boils at 200 degrees, not 212. By the time you reach 220 degrees you’ve well over burned your jelly or candy. That means the jelly-set temperature is closer to 207 degrees, adjusted for percentage – not geometric difference. For those higher in altitude than the mile-high city, I suggest you start testing your jelly around 206 degrees on a frozen saucer(freeze a few saucers for multiple tests).

Barometric pressure also plays a factor. It changes widely and quickly in the mountains and can really mess up your candies and jellies if not watched after.

A candy maker told me that in this area you have to watch the weather for a solid clear sky and check for storm patterns when making your candies or they won’t come out.

Chocolate and fudge is a little more forgiving. Still, I’ve even had some crystallized fudge from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory before so even well seasoned candy makers can have their off-days.

So how did the black raspberry — red currant jelly come out? Much of the water boiled out leaving a very thick, very hard set, very strong jelly. Not burned, thank goodness, but it almost did.

It’s as black and dense as midnight though clear as a jewel and spreads on a deep, rich, royal purple. It would probably do better spooned out and diluted to be served as a syrup because of its intense raspberry flavor, but still goes well with the hearty flavor of hearty-grained or strong buttermilk breads. It probably wouldn’t do well on water crackers.

I had another interesting and fun basic geometric math problem to solve while making the jelly. The recipe calls for 2.25 cups of sugar for every 2.5 cups of juice after straining. All the juice had been strained in the pot it would be made in and I didn’t want to make a mess of the dark juice. I remembered that you could convert metric volume into liters – that, after all, is the definition of a liter. Liters could be converted into cups, which could then be multiplied by the ratio of sugar to juice for the correct amount of sugar without ever needing to pour the juice out of the pot.

The diameter of the pot is 24cm. The depth of the juice was 2.6cm. ( pi*(24/2)^2 ) * 2.6 is roughly 1176.212 milliliters or 1.176212 liters. There are 4.22675282 cups in a liter. That ends up being roughly 5 cups of juice, which means 4.5 cups of sugar was needed. It was a perfect example of my math teacher saying “You may want to do this someday…” becoming true.

Fantastic jelly, geeky math fun, and a story to tell. What more could you want to do with your evening … other than sharing a piece of jelly emblazoned toast with your inspiring wife?

Organic Pick-Your-Own Farms

A large windmill spun overhead as we pulled in past the gate. Parking our van we quickly spied over the metal bar fence. Picnic tables adorned the lawn to the side of a large red barn. Nestled on the barn’s porch were white rocking chairs and a table with a box of freshly pulled garlic stalks resting in it.

Paula took some of the family to ask about the process at this farm. I followed up with some equipment and water.

“There’s a ‘train’ that picks up here and takes us to the berries.”, she said.

We didn’t wait long when a green John Deer tractor pulled up with a large red and white bench seat wagon rolling behind. The driver showed us where to pick the red currents and where to pick the black raspberries then slowed to a stop to let us out.

We spent some time picking currents. After pulling together two pints worth, we began picking the raspberries. The combination of mid-90 degree heat and thorny bushes was difficult for the children to bear so they headed back to the barn for shade when the next ‘train’ came by. “Get the black ones!” cried out the driver over the tractor engine. I nodded as she pointed in an area “These are more ripe here!” she called out again.

I continued to pick berries for some time longer before heading back to the barn area myself. My girls picked flowers and dug up carrots during that time. Once we were all together again we drank water and sat on the shaded porch in rocking chairs. Then Claudia came by.

Claudia and Tim are the owners of Berry Patch Farm. Her tan face and energetic smile display a level of passion she has for her farm. She kindly answered questions Paula had about organic farming. She mentioned that the Colorado State University was invaluable as a resource – that the university even takes classes to her farm to study organic farming techniques in practice. She talked some about the expenses related to this type of farming, but also related the benefits to it.

A few minutes later we were joined by Tim. He waved to us as he stepped off the tractor. A few minutes later he was showing the children a medium sized rock that had been split by lightning.

When I asked if I could get a picture of him and his wife together he asked if I were from the media. “No”, I replied, “but it might end up on my blog, though nobody really reads it.” He and Claudia looked at each other and chuckled.

“A few weeks ago we were visited by some Microsoft bloggers. They called ahead and made arrangements then took some nice pictures, too.” He was talking about the Eco-Trippers who were making a journey from San Francisco to D.C. for the “Live Earth” concert and stopped by on the way.

We perused the barn some more. They have a variety of fresh vegetables of course, but they also have honey, eggs and some great tasting almost-natural candy. It isn’t quite completely natural since it uses non-organic corn syrup amongst some other purist taboo ingredients. One of the girls and I went out and picked some fresh basil then checked out.

That night we had a fantastic Margaretta pizza with the basil. As for the currents and raspberries, I plan to make some fantastic jelly with them. The rest of the family can hardly wait.

Little Wonders

Little Wonder Cafe

In the small town of Richfield Utah on 101 main street there is a little green-roofed restaurant that if not for a classic storefront sign jutting over the sidewalk would be easily dismissed. But that red and white sign beaconed out. As it was approaching 1 and this looked like a salivary adventure, we took the opportunity to stop.

It wasn’t a stinky, oily fast food dump. It wasn’t a schmaltzy hotel cash sponge. It wasn’t on the side of the highway with a big plastic cow and wagon nailed to the roof. It was clearly a local diner with a home-town feel and full of locals and home cooked food.

Little Wonder Cafe Billboard

On the other side of the building there is a dilapidated sign which looked as old as the founding date printed on it: Since 1929. Even the original Dick and Mac McDonald’s place didn’t open until 1940.

The potato salad is fantastic as are the burgers. You can substitute meat patties with veggie ones which is perfect for us.

What also drew our attention were hand crafted wooden signs posted around the walls:
“Stephen King sat here”
“Tommy Lee Jones sat here”
“Robert Wagner and Jill St. John sat Here”
“Kurt Russell sat here”
… and others

We inquired about these signs. The waitress mentioned with a smile that there are a good number of films made in Utah. Sometimes a private airplane breaks down or needs work and people end up in Richfield.

It’s easy to understand the almost magnetic energy that draws famous actors and actresses, directors and writers to such a restaurant. It’s quaint, it’s cozy and it’s personal. It’s full of imagination and inspiration … and as the sign says: “home-style food when away from home.”