SCHUYLER FALLS — Jane Desotelle has engaged in canning since she was tall enough to stand and stir a pot for her grandmother, Jane Underwood Haines, the namesake for her business.
“It takes some stirring,” said Desotelle, an herbalist and owner of Underwood Herbs. “She also taught me how to make my own pectin from the peelings of green apples.”
Jellies are the latest addition to the company’s product line.
“I could not get my kitchen inspected when I lived in Chateaugay. I had a spring and (a) wood stove,” she said. “When I moved to Plattsburgh, I could get my kitchen inspected with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Marketing.”
Desotelle started her business of wild foods and herbs in 1978. She majored in philosophy at SUNY Plattsburgh.
“There was no botany club back then,” Desotelle said. “When I got out of college, I was a hippie, (part of the) back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s. I knew I was too independent to live on a commune. We looked around for our own piece of property, 100 acres in Churubusco.”
She was fascinated with all the plants she could see.
“I was determined to get to know all these plants around me. I was very self-taught. I grabbed every book I could on wild foods and medicinal plants. I was giving away herb teas to people. They were finding them useful and wanted to buy them. That’s how I started my business, Underwood Herbs. I (have) always liked the name. It’s a family name, and I was in the woods all the time,” Desotelle said.
From herbal teas, she branched out to balsam pillows and wreaths.
“The jelly making was another way to use the wild foods we have. The jellies I make are from wild fruits. I also use some herbs and flowers,” she said.
One of her favorite wild fruits is the May apple.
“It is a very unusual plant to pick fruit from. It’s not a tree. It’s not a shrub. It’s a herbaceous plant. It’s a perennial. Some people grow it in their garden as a perennial flower. It has a pretty white flower. Another name for it is the umbrella plant. When the leaves open, it’s like an umbrella,” she said. “It’s very hardy and very hard to find anymore up here. I have been looking for it and couldn’t find it here.”
She visited her grandmother in Ohio and returned with 10 May apple plants.
“Since I was just moving in, I didn’t have time to plant them in shade. They ended up in full sun, and they loved it. They’re doing great, and they have multiplied. I have hundreds of plants now,” she said.
A May apple is kiwi-size with a smooth, golden-yellow peel.
“Most people swear there’s pineapple in it. It’s like a pineapple apple. It’s very popular (May Apple Jelly),” she said. “It’s painstaking. You have to take the seeds out inside and peel the skin off, but I think it’s worth it.”
Desotelle listened to her grandmother’s advice about not putting all her eggs in one basket. She has plants scattered between her Brainardsville property, her mother’s property in Plattsburgh and on her son and daughter-in-law’s Shady Grove Farm and Wellness Center in Schuyler Falls.
She has more than 100 plants she uses in teas.
“Lots of weeds in the garden and perennial flowers we grow make great teas and great jellies,” she said.
In the art of jelly making, acid is needed.
“The fruits have different levels of acid in them. You have to add pectin. The fruit doesn’t have enough of its own, and you need sugar. When you’re making jelly or jam for yourself and you’re not selling it, you have more options. You can make a freezer jam and lessen the amount of sugar. But to sell it, you have to have a certain level of acid and sugar. The sugar helps preserve it,” she said.
MAY APPLE JELLY
For May Apple Jelly, Desotelle collects, washes and halves the fruit and removes the seeds.
‘When they’re really ripe, the skins peel off pretty easily. I just chop the halves up and get my recipe out,” she said. “I don’t use box pectin. I buy it in bulk. My recipes don’t go with box pectin people find in the grocery store.”
▶ Two cups of pulp from May apples.
▶ Cup of juice from around the seeds. Separate juice from seeds with strainer. Dry seeds for planting.
▶ Add one cup of wild apple juice. Make juice from outside peelings of wild apples.
▶ 3 tablespoons of fruit pectin.
▶ 5 cups of plain cane sugar.
“You got your May apple and apple juice in the pot. You add your fruit pectin, and stir it. Make sure the pectin dissolves,” Desotelle said.
“Before that, I have my jars in a hot-water bath. The jars and lids are in hot water, sterilizing. I keep them hot while I’m making the jelly.”
“When the fruit and pectin comes to a boil, I quickly add the 5 cups of sugar. Give it a stir, and make sure it’s all blended well. Keep stirring until it comes up to a full boil,” she explained.
She does a spoon test to make sure the concoction will jell.
“Turn the spoon so it slides off. If it sheets down off the spoon, you know it’s in the jelly stage,” she said. “Once you get it to that point, take it off the heat and let it sit a bit, like a minute.
“Sometimes, there is foam on the top. I skim that off. I put the jelly into the hot jars and seal them with a hot lid and put them in a hot-water bath for five or 10 minutes. It depends on the size of the jar.”
She places the finished jars on a wooden chopping board to cool. Next, she labels and dates each one.
“You’re done,” Desotelle said.
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