Ever looked at the back of a bottle of commercial juice? Yeah, yikes. I love the Ocean Spray cranberry dudes but you have to be sure you double check the labels if you want to buy a juice without white sugar, or worse, artificial sweeteners. Even juices with no added sweet muck are only sold to people with money. They’re sticklers about that. Anyway, we have a number of fruit trees and a large Concord grape vine that we inherited when we bought this house and with pruning, they’ve performed really well for us. BUT, I was never really sure what to do with them – ever grown food you didn’t know what to do with? Rutabagas come to mind. We’re not big plum eaters and the grapes have seeds (although, that doesn’t seem to keep my kids from wolfing them down). One day, I learned about an awesome contraption called a steam juicer and decided that it would have to be the next tool I couldn’t live without! There are several types out there in prices ranging from around fifty to two hundred dollars; we bought this one and it works very well and cleans up easily. We don’t drink a ton of juice but the plum juice mixes wonderfully well with homemade limeade for a festive Christmas punch and the grape juice is just plain divine. I usually use the grape juice to mask the flavor and get the kids to drink their antibiotic herbal tincture when they’re ill. The Concords are really pretty sweet on their own but to make a batch of juice-juice I use one quart of home canned juice and one quart of filtered water with raw agave to taste. This is one of the only things I use agave for anymore but I like it better than honey because the flavor blends better – honey has a taste of it’s own. For the first time this year, we also did apricot juice. If you love to can jelly, this steam juicing process can cut out all that muck with a jelly bag - just steam juice your fruit and add the pectin, etc.
So here are a few photos with some basic instructions. I would also recommend you go to YouTube and watch some videos – what did we ever do before YouTube?! Oh, yeah, we read books.
First, if you’re going to wash your fruit, wash it. Some people, who don’t use chemical sprays like to leave the natural probiotics on the skin and eat their backyard fruit unwashed, which is groovy. For this, though, the skin gets left behind and the heat is so high I doubt anything even remotely thermo-sensitive lives through it so I go ahead and rinse even though I don’t spray for bugs – I live in Utah and it’s dusty.
Then, place your fruit inside the strainer basket. Fill the steam bottom section about 3/4 full with water and place on high heat to start the process. Place the collecting pan on top of the bottom section; this pan will collect all the juice that’s pulled out of your fruit by the steam and is the section with the tubing attached to it. ALWAYS keep the clamp on the tube and hang the tube up on the handle and out of your way. FYI, the clamp will sometimes leak because of pressure variations so each time you use it, keep that in mind. Also bear in mind that as you push the clamp in, the juice will come out…and so will some wicked hot steam. Always keep your hand behind the clamp to avoid seriously scalding yourself. I think I may have uttered a few unladylike choice phrases every time I burned myself forgetting to keep my hand out of the way. On top of the collecting pot, you place the basket in which you’ve placed your fruit, followed by the lid. The lid is important; put it where it goes or your steam will escape and accomplish nothing but a possible facial for you. Make sure you keep the water level at least hallway up the bottom steamer or you’ll burn up your pan and the process will stop.
The steamer basket can be emptied when you feel you’ve extracted all the fruit has to give and just refilled and place right back on the unit (after checking your water level, of course). All that left over mash makes a great treat for your chickens or pigs…or compost pile.
The process works like any other steaming device so don’t let all the parts confuse you; you’re creating steam, putting in something to cook and then taking it out. The only difference is, you’re sucking the life blood out of the thing that you’re cooking – hence the tube. Sort of a violent process when you think about it.
As the steam pulls the juice from the fruit, the collection pot begins to fill up. As the collection pot fills, so will the tubing so make sure you’ve got it elevated – we usually do this by attaching it to the handles of the unit by the clamp. When you feel like it’s been long enough (there’s no exact time – just give it time to thoroughly heat and watch for the tubing to fill up), place the tube end in a glass jar and release the clamp. Make sure you don’t leave the juice too long in the collection pot or it will overflow into your bottom pot and be wasted; or, possibly fill up your bottom pot as well and leak all over your stove. What? That wasn’t me; that just happened to someone I know.
We usually build a tower of buckets in front of the stove for the jar to stand on since the glass gets just too hot to hold. The wonderful thing about this process is that the juice is so hot, all you have to do is put on a clean seal and a ring and let it sit and the juice will seal on it’s own. No water bath needed! When you’re done, just wash all the parts, making sure to run hot, soapy water through the tubing. Remember to attach that clamp to your unit when you’re done washing and drying it so you don’t lose it; losing it would be remarkably inconvenient and messy.
The plum juice varies in shades (depending on the plum variety) of pinks and reds; the Concord turn out a deep, deep purple and the apricots, of course, made a lovely orange colored juice. We only canned a gallon or two of the plum (although we could have done more given our plum harvest) but we did almost nine gallons of grape juice! We’ll see what our inventory is next fall in order to gauge how much we really need for a year. Maybe quart jars of juice would make nice gifts at Christmastime. What do you think ? Would you think home canned juice was a nice gift?
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