Just like my nanna used to make.
Because I run an allotment, and because I enjoy making things, and because I think homemade produce made with a little care and attention – and, of course, a great deal of compassion – invariably tastes better than any shop-bought counterpart, I always have jars of homemade pickles, jams and chutneys in the cupboard.
Somehow, the jewels in the crown of these, are the jellies.
This year I went mad on jellies. I had fruit from the allotment, and also we collected fruits for free during country walks this autumn.
Elderberries, rosehips, apples, gooseberries and redcurrants.
I also made quince jelly, and quince butter, but I shall devote another blogpost to that wonderful fruit (and also to the delights of gooseberry jelly) , as I also made a quince cheese, also known as Dulce de Membrillo in Spain, which is sitting quietly wrapped up in the refrigerator, and which I won’t be unwrapping ’til Christmas.
There are aspects of making jellies that are a faff, and aspects that can be actually easier than jams.
Jellies are great because they bridge a gap between sweet and savoury. They can go either way.
A fab. combination is fruit jelly and nut butter on toast …..swoon…… and jellies will also bring a zing to savoury dishes such as nut roast, vegan savoury pies or a platter of vegan cheese and crackers.
Somehow, jellies reveal the essence of the fruit, whether soft and mellow or sharp and tangy. It’s a bit magic, if you ask me.
Before I get to the recipe, a word about sugar. Sugar is getting an awful lot of bad press these days, quite rightly too. However, sugar is a fantastic way to preserve such things as fruits, and my feeling is that as long as you know where your sugar is, then something sweet every now and then is OK.
There are two main culprits devastating peoples health when it comes to sugar: hidden sugar is one, and the other is sweetened soft drinks.
There are other vegan sweeteners such as agave and maple syrup, which will fulfil certain roles, but for jams and jellies sugar is best. Raw sugar is probably the best.
When making jellies, before you start, all you have to do is wash them thoroughly. You don’t have to peel, and you don’t have to remove stalks. You don’t even have to top and tail gooseberries. Now that’s less faff for a start.
Some fruits have enough pectin to allow the jam to set, some need a little assistance. Getting a perfect set can be a bit of a faff. I add apples with fruits low in pectin. I added one apple to 1lb. elderberries, and 1lb apples to 1lb of rosehips. I also added a lemon to the rosehips, and right at the end, when the jelly was ready to pour into the jars, I added 2 tbs. of rosewater. There are all sorts of lovely combinations with which to make delicious jellies.
HOW TO MAKE FRUIT JELLIES
- If apples are included wash and roughly chop them.
- Put the fruit in a large sturdy pan (a maslin pan is best but not essential), and add just enough water to cover the fruit. Bring the fruit to a gentle boil, and then simmer on a low heat until the fruit is very tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Then take a large square piece of unbleached muslin, big enough to drape over a big basin, and carefully transfer the fruit and the water into it.
- Take the four corners of the muslin, and pull them together, to form a bag, and tie string around the muslin. Keeping the bowl underneath, lift the muslin bag high enough and tie it somewhere to allow the juice from the fruit to drip into the bowl. This can be a faff…. I have a wall-mounted kitchen towel holder which I can tie the bag to, with enough room to place the bowl underneath. I have seen all sorts of contraptions designed to successfully complete this process, involving upside down stools, and picture frames! You can buy pieces of kit that are designed to hold a muslin bag over the bowl.
- Leave overnight. Or up to 36 hours.
- The next day, resist the temptation to squeeze the bag….this will result in a clearer jelly.
- Measure how much juice there is. Transfer the juice back to the clean muslin pan. Discard the rest of the fruit. This may seem a little wasteful, but I put it in the compost so eventually it’s returned to the soil….
- Add 1lb. sugar for every pint of juice.
- Add the sugar to the pan with the juice and bring slowly to the boil, stirring, allowing the sugar to dissolve.
- Boil on a rolling boil until a set is obtained. Usually wait about 10-15 minutes before testing. This timing may vary.
- I use the old-fashioned way of testing by dripping a few drops of the hot jelly onto a cold plate, and popping it in the refrigerator for a few minutes. Jam thermometers can be used. Switch off the heat under the jelly while doing this.
- Then, draw your finger through the chilled jelly, if it wrinkles, it’s ready. If not, put back on the heat. Repeat this every one or two minutes because it becomes very easy to overcook the jelly and have a set that is too hard. I like a soft melt-in-the-mouth set.
- The time it takes for each type of fruit to achieve a nice set will vary, and every type of fruit jelly will set slightly differently.
- Pour the jelly into hot sterilised jars, cover with waxed discs, and screw the lid on tightly. Allow to cool before moving. Label and date the jars. Store in a dry cool dark cupboard. These jellies will keep for months, as long as the jars have been properly sterilised. *
Worth the faff …surely..?
- *To sterilise the jars, wash in hot soapy water, rinse, and then place sideways on a heat proof tray in the oven, gas mk2/150C for up to an hour, and at least half an hour. Until they are dry.
- When ready to pour in the jelly, remove the jars carefully from the oven, turn them upright, allow to cool for just a few minutes, and then add the jelly. If the jars are too cold, they may crack.
- Handle carefully, everything is very very hot.