Sometimes, my good ideas don’t quite work out like I think…
This summer, I worked on a garden project that I referred to as “bamboo eradication 2013!” I had about 40 feet of bamboo along a fence line removed. If you’ve ever planted bamboo, you know that it takes over (I inherited it from the previous homeowner). It was squeezing my fence out and bursting into my neighbors’ yard. Not only that, but I wanted the space for espaliered fruit trees.
So I paid to have it removed by a professional gardener with a stump grinder. I had quite a bit of work to do as well. I removed and capped the sprinkler line next to the bamboo beforehand. My neighbor did a happy dance and removed the fence panels. When the bamboo was gone, I replaced the pressure treated lumber for edging and rebuilt the garden bed. I also replaced some cracked fence slats and re-plumbed the sprinkler line. Then I dug a couple of fence posts for my fruit trees and poured cement to keep the posts steady. My friend Cheryl asked how the project was going. I told her my cement didn’t set very well. Apparently, I was supposed to wait longer to try out the turnbuckle. I turned it so tight that my posts set in wet cement leaned towards each other at an angle. Oops! Cheryl was concerned and said something like “Oh, I thought you could do anything”. Cheryl is very generous with her compliments. My list of half way, incomplete, mistakes, and total fails from home improvements to baking to crafts is a very long list indeed. I told her not to worry, this is how I figure things out. I try something and fail and try again.
My approach to jam is the same. After all, some of my favorite recipes were experiments. Last night was a rough night. First, I waited until too late in the evening to start working on quince paste. Quince is really hard to cut into quarters, core and peel. It was after 9pm when I finished the first step in the process by adding them to a big pot.
Then I thought, if 12 cups of fresh quince is good, then 20 cups is better! I’ll make a big batch and knock it out. To the 20 cups of cubed quince, I added 16 cups of sugar and 12 cups of water. I know what you’re thinking, that seems like a lot of stuff for one pot. You would be right. It reminded me of when my brother was a boy. He would put so much cereal in a bowl, he would have to hold it down with one hand and pour the milk through the cracks in his fingers to keep it in the bowl. That should have been a hint! But oh no, I felt really good about it. Once the giant cauldron of quince started to boil, it became immediately apparent that I was in trouble. The syrupy mixture foamed to the top. So I transferred about a third to a smaller pot and kept simmering.
After solving the overflow problem, I felt like it was going well. I figured I could hang up some clean laundry for 5 minutes rather than watching the stove. That was a misstep. In a couple minutes, I heard an angry hissing sound and smelled burned sugar coming from the kitchen. The quince boiled over onto the stove top and was bubbling and burning on the surface. I quickly moved the big pot onto a dishtowel, which burned because the pot was so hot. Then I ran a damp home-crochet dish rag over the hot burner. (It’s possible a couple of flames sparked up.) My dish rag was scalded, but the quince was saved.
Whew, crisis averted! Not so fast…I thought it was thrifty to try an immersion blender from a dollar store. I know, I know, you can guess where this is going. The quince was so lava-flow hot that it melted the shape of the plastic on the immersion blender. Thankfully, it didn’t melt the plastic into the quince jelly, just reshaped the blender to make it completely useless.
At this point, it was 11 pm and I was so done cooking quince, but I was so close. I pulled out my trusty red Kitchen Aid blender to finish the job. I overfilled it a couple of times and had to put some muscle into holding down the lid. I actually finished the job without the blender lid exploding and spraying boiling hot quince paste all over my kitchen. I also managed to get the quince paste into clean pint jars for making fruit butter later.
All that to say, it was a rough batch. Get it, like rough patch, but I said batch instead. As far as the great bamboo eradication project of 2013, it worked out okay too. I added some more cement and waited for it to settle. It’s only a little bit wiggly. Also, Cheryl promised to make me some more dish cloths. And my birthday and Christmas are coming up, so perhaps a new immersion blender is in order. Best of all, I ended up with 11 pint jars of thick, gooey quince paste. As Anne of Green Gables would say, “tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet”.