Sunday, August 31, 2008
MAKING ELDERBERRY JELLY
First of all, if you think you can make elderberry jelly within an hour, think again. Clear your schedule for half a day.
It truly is best if you free your kitchen of all clutter before beginning. Jelly making is messy. (Do as I say – not as I do.)
Take your bucket of elderberries and dump them into a colander in the sink. Wash the berries thoroughly. You should definitely remove any bugs you find.
Get your 6-quart pot. (For years I made jelly in a 3-quart pot because that was all I had. It can be done but you have to watch your mixtures closely.) Elderberries grow in clusters. Removing them from their stems is tedious. I remove the largest stems and as many of the smaller ones as is practical.
Set the pot on the stove over high heat. A little water with the berries will start the juice flowing. They should cook for 15 or 20 minutes. Crushing the berries at this point is also helpful – if you have a potato masher.
Now that the berries are cooked, you need to strain them through cheesecloth or a jelly bag to be sure your jelly is free of berry pulp and seeds. I have neither at this time and have found cheesecloth to be marginally useful anyway. Making an online search – "how to make a jelly bag" – I discover others agree with me. Suggested substitutes are old pillowcases, old dishtowels, muslin, and panty hose -- reasonably clean. I love these folks! I find an old dishtowel in my rag bin which I fold to fit my colander. Somehow I manage to pour the cooked berries into the colander, rinse out the 6-quart pot, and then set the colander over the pot so that the juice will drip into it. (I don't remember how I managed that feat but I'm sure the transfer involved another bowl / pan / pitcher.)
Some people might allow a lot of time – like a whole day – for the juice to drip from the berries. I was anxious to get on with the process, which may be why I struggle with a lot of things these days. In the initial dripping I had two and a half cups but needed three. Apple juice is great for stretching the juice, but I don't have any. I do, however, have some Gala apples on hand, so I got out the juicer and juiced three apples. More mess. Grabbing my Pyrex measuring cup, I heated the apple juice in the microwave and poured it over the berries in the colander. Folding the dishtowel over the berries, I began to squeeze the juice out of my makeshift bag. Eventually the old fibers gave way and the "bag" burst open. Oh well – I have enough juice and to spare now. I managed to measure the juice and then pour it back into the pot for the actual cooking process.
Now, after an hour and a half of work, I am ready to begin the actual jelly making. "Read all instructions before beginning," state the instructions that come with the Sure-Jel. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, actually I did read them – and read them again – and read them again. It looks as though I must boil the juice with the pectin and then again after the sugar is added, stirring constantly, while simultaneously preparing the jars with hot water. "I can do that," I say to myself. Oh – and I need the juice of an actual lemon. Fortunately I have one, so I find Ina's glass lemon juicer and juice the lemon. Yet another dish to wash. "Holy mackerel!" says Mike, coming upon a kitchen in disarray. He reaches for the camera.
Bottom line: Four and a half cups of sugar is added to the nasty-tasting three cups of juice, instantly transforming it into a tasty substance. Go figure! Hot jars were filled with the hot, sweet substance and that set up nicely. Would I do it again? Actually – I probably will. KW