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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eat it the way you found it : Corn Cobs

I know making one's own jelly out of corn cobs sounds like tragically hip foodie meets crunchy granola hippie meets total whackjob off-the-gridder and that I risk losing some of my 7 readers by suggesting it, but hear me out!  The cobs have a ton of that sweet, summery flavor that you like so much about corn, so why throw them out?

I wouldn't use corn cobs that teeth touched for making stock. I know they'll get boiled, but it still squicks me out. So I keep cobs that I've cut the kernels off in a ziptop bag in the freezer until I've got enough to make stock. If you use raw cobs, you'll need fewer to get more flavor than if you use cobs that were boiled or roasted once already.

The original jelly recipe was found in a Depression-era cookbook that clearly demonstrates the frugal zeitgeist of the time.  You'll get every last drop of flavor outta that corn, by golly, if you just boil them up and use the stock to make jelly.  You can actually use corn stock in more than just jelly (like creamed corn or corn chowder, below), but the jelly is interesting enough to discuss here.  It's like making your own honey without all the stings. 

I'm doing a version that uses less sugar than the original.  A low-sugar jelly will always be slightly soft-set and won't ever pass the "sheeting" test (a metal spoon dipped into the boiling jelly will form two drops of jelly that merge and "sheet" together).  I compensate with extra pectin and a longer boil time for a firmer set.

Canning jelly is really not hard.  It took me 45 minutes, start to finish, including the time spent digging out the canning equipment, making the jelly and cleaning up.  When I do jelly or jam, I always buy an extra packet of pectin to cover my bases. I've knocked open packets over and lemme tell you, there's nothing like crying in your unset jelly because the dog is licking the last of your powdered pectin off the floor and you'll still have to mop anyway. I screw up so you don't have to.

Get a big pot (8 quarts or larger), a small round rack that fits in the bottom and a ladle.  The canning-specific equipment needed is a wide-mouthed funnel (or a very steady hand) and some curved tongs that will allow you to pick the hot jars out of the water bath (or some other MacGyver-ed lifting arrangement). 

Wash the jars, flat lids, and lid rings first.  Technically you should sanitize everything your jelly will touch, but I settle for filling the washed jars with super-hot water and leaving them in the sink, filled, until I'm ready to roll.  I put the lids, rings, funnel and ladle in a bowl and pour boiling water over those. Before starting to make the jelly, empty the jars (don't bother drying them off) and put them on a clean kitchen towel near your work area so you have everything ready to go.  At this point, half-fill the big pot with water, put the round rack in the bottom, and put it over medium heat.  Have extra hot water at the ready as well (I use an electric kettle) to top up your processing pot when you're ready to process.

Set-up (from left): tongs, cleaned jars, bowl with lids and rings in boiling water, blue enamel processing pot half-filled with water over medium heat, stainless jelly pot with corn stock poured in, electric kettle filled and hot to pour extra boiling water into processing pot, bowls with measured sugar and pectin, timer, extra pectin and sugar in case of a pectin disaster

Once the jelly is cooked, use the funnel and ladle to pour jelly into your jars, leaving 1/2" of space at the top.  Put a flat lid and a ring on each jar, and carefully tighten the rings by hand (wearing oven mitts).  Carefully put each jar in the pot, stacking them if necessary, and add water to cover.  Bring to a full boil over high heat.  Boil for 5 minutes (or longer, depending on your altitude), counting from when the pot comes to a full boil.  After 5 minutes, use the tongs to put each jar on a kitchen towel, leaving at least 1" of space between jars.  After a few minutes, if you've done everything right, you'll start to hear the jar lids popping.  They're forming the vacuum seal that keeps them shelf-stable.  It's awesome.

Pictured above (from top left, clockwise): putting lids and rings on filled jars, lowering jars into simmering processing pot, jars fully loaded in processing pot, topped up processing pot at full boil, tightening rings on finished and cooled jars.

Corn Cob Stock
Makes about 2 quarts

8-10 corn cobs
2 1/2 quarts water

Put cobs and water in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Boil about 30 minutes.  Strain stock through a fine mesh sieve and discard cobs and other corn flotsam.

Corn Cob Jelly
Makes about 6 8 oz. jars or 3 pints

4 1/2 cups corn cob stock
2 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 packets (1.75 oz) "less sugar" pectin + 1/4 cup sugar

Stock with pectin
See above for equipment preparation instructions. 

Mix 1/4 cup sugar with powdered pectin in a small bowl.  Measure out remaining sugar for quick adding later.  Whisk pectin/sugar mixture into cold corn stock.  It will be thick, a little lumpy and very foamy.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  When the stock is at a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, stir in all the sugar.  Stir constantly until the mixture comes to another full rolling boil.  Boil hard for 4 minutes.  If you have substantially more jelly than 6 cups at this point (from adding too much liquid in the first place), boil a bit longer to reduce the liquid to ensure a good gel.
Ladle quickly into clean jars, and follow directions above for processing.

Corn Chowder
Makes 6-8 servings

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp savory or rosemary
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
3 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (about 6 ears of fresh corn)
1 quart corn or chicken stock
salt and pepper
1 portion beurre manié (or 1 tbsp softened butter blended with 1 tbsp flour)

Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat.  Saute onion, garlic, parsley, savory, potato and corn until soft.  Add stock and simmer for 30 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and whisk in beurre manié to thicken slightly.
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