“Hey, I’ll be making jelly around 5 pm…” My neighbor’s text came at the right moment. Submerged in my sea of unnecessary worry, a break for simple pleasures like making jelly felt like just the right therapy.
Nina and I are gardeners in a rural community. We had both been to a workshop on growing and preserving a medicinal variety of hibiscus. I’d decided to stick with growing and drying the product for tea because the canning process seemed too complicated, but Nina’s method of canning changed my mind.
Nina grows her own berries, so I was good to go on my pledge to eat local all month. When I arrived she was already stirring a raspberry and blueberry mixture. Buster, her even tempered husband, was there taking a break from selling the pastel eggs that some very happy chickens give him most of the time.
The chickens weren’t laying. Nina explained chickens naturally go through a hormonal cycle that causes them to crave motherhood — made me wonder if this meant something special – like a signal from nature to lay off the eggs at certain times of the year. Now that pun was not intended, but I’ll keep it anyway and tell you that my next post will be on how to make an easy, sumptuous dish with eggs and mushrooms.
Raspberry/Blueberry Jelly, Jam and Syrup Recipe
Nina was planning to use some of her mixture to make syrup for pancakes, so she didn’t add the pectin right away. She used about a gallon and a half of berries and about four cups of light brown organic sugar instead of refined sugar. The amount of sugar is variable, but this amount was just perfect for my tastes.
- Wash the berries first and strain off any water.
- Use a heavy ceramic iron or stainless steel pot, and start the berries and sugar on a medium heat.
- Stir constantly and bring the mixture to a rolling boil.
- Reduce the heat and keep stirring for about 5 minutes, then add the juice of 2 fresh lemons to add brightness to the berry flavor.
Taking out the Syrup
Drain off the amount of syrup you want. Nina made 2.5 pints that she immediately poured into sterilized Ball jars, screwed on the lids tightly and then set them aside. Let your helper stir the remaining mixture during this process. If you don’t want to make syrup, you can just coat the berries with pectin and stir before you add the sugar and start the heat. (See below – Waiting for the Pop — for how much to fill the jars.)
Pectin for Jelly or Jam
Keep the rest of the berry mixture simmering on low ¬¬– stir constantly. Adding the pectin at this point can be tricky because it can lump when the mixture is hot. Nina slowly sprinkled in six tablespoons of Ball Real Fruit Low or No Sugar Pectin while constantly stirring the mixture.
Foam, Mashing and Straining
Sometimes the mixture will create foam that is unattractive. If you are mashing and straining to get rid of seeds as we did, you may not need to skim off the foam. I helped Nina mash and strain the berry mixture using a ladle as the masher and a strainer that was small enough to filter out the raspberry seeds – which would be fed to the chickens later on!
We left some of the pulp, so in theory this would be jam. If you strained all the pulp and just used the juice – it would be jelly. We then reheated the remaining liquid until it started to bubble just slightly, poured it into sterilized Ball Jars — using a wide-mouthed funnel and immediately put the lids on tightly. Don’t fill the jars to the top – fill just to the middle of the jar’s mouth. You need to leave a layer of air that will seal the jar. Nina’s mixture yielded about six and a half pints of jam that would go to family and neighbors for immediate use.
Waiting for the Pop
Nina does not use a water bath for an acid mixture that she plans to use right away. As long as you leave an air pocket of ¼”, the mixture is hot enough, and the lid is screwed on tightly, you only have to wait for “the pop” — the signal that the seal on the jar is tight.
“So what do we do while we wait”? Buster joined us at the kitchen counter. Nina found a bottle of chilled Chardonnay in the refrigerator for our reward. As we chatted and sipped, the jars started popping.
You can actually see the difference between a popped jar and one that is not sealed because there is a faint circle on the middle of the lid that appears when it pops. Check the seal by pressing the center of the lid. If the circle on the lid is down and does not move when you press it, the jar is sealed. Always refrigerate after opening. If the mixture develops mold or other discoloration when you open the jar – throw it away.
Caution: Do not use this “open kettle” method for other types of food or for storage. If you want to store this mixture –syrup, jam or jelly, it requires a water bath.Some foods require a pressure cooker for canning. The USDA offers a free complete guide to canning
Jam, Crackers, Wine and Goat Cheese
“What about calling Jeeta to join us and bring over that bottle of wine I’ve been saving to share with you all,” I asked after all the jars had popped and we waited for the jam to cool. Buster agreed to pick up our neighbor using the golf cart to fetch him from the land just across their field. Nina and I went to visit with her mother next door. When we met back at the kitchen, Jeeta opened a Malbec from Argentina that I had found at the local salvage store. It was so good that Nina offered us some goat cheese and light, buttery crackers – with the now cool jam. It was a perfect combination of earthly, sweet, salty and crispy snack to accompany the wine.
Thanks for Reading,
References and Recommended Reading:
Putting Food By; Janet Greene et.al. 5th Ed.
Canning & Preserving Without Sugar: Norma M. MacRae, R.D.