For the April Can Jam, I was excited to see herbs as the focus, partly because my little pot garden – the first sign of spring around here – is sprouting mint, rosemary, lovage, tarragon, thyme, oregano, sage and chives, which overwintered.
However, what excited me the most about this assignment is that I tried something that I’ve always wanted to do: make jelly. I mean real jelly. Oh, I’ve made jelly before with some kind of pectin gel or powder but I dislike that stuff because of the texture it produces. During my January Can Jam Meyer lemon marmalade adventure, I started to see how pectin developed naturally, from the peels and pits that were set aside overnight to do their wonders.
From what I read in Pam Corbin’s book, Preserves, in the River Cottage series, apples are one of the secrets to natural pectin. We’re fortunate that our local orchard still has good apples for sale. With those and herbs from my garden, I remained local once more. Since this was all about experimenting, while I followed the ratios in Corbin’s recipe for Herb Jelly (converting weighing to measuring), I tried two kinds of apples and two kinds of herbs, individually and combined. I loved the results because I both learned something and made a useful product.
First I used mint cooked with Stayman winesaps. I thought they’d have more pectin than the other choices. I should have used more mint and chopped it more finely to release flavor, but when I added fresh chopped mint to the jelly to serve with lamb at Easter, it exploded with flavor. I love my subtle jelly though, since it will make an excellent glaze for a fruit tart.
The second experiment involved Granny Smith apples and rosemary. While tart green apples supposedly offer the most pectin, I had passed them up because I didn’t think their quality was as good as the winesaps. I snipped a lot of rosemary into the apple mixture. I also cooked it a little longer than the first batch and it gelled up enough that when I inserted rosemary and mint leaves, they stayed suspended. This is partly due to the fact that after I ladled the jelly in the canning jars, I let them sit for 8-10 minutes before inserting the herbs (rosemary alone and also mint and rosemary. I dunked the herbs in boiling water before adding them to the jars. I also made sure that the canning water and the jarred jelly were about at the same temperature when I started the canning process, which helps avoid breakage.
Since I like to can my experiments in small batches, I was excited to find a small canning rack that fits into a deep stockpot. Next up: I need to get out my old Weck jars (I store dried herbs in them since they fit perfectly in the drawer) and buy new rubber rings. Later this year, when Thanksgiving comes around and I’m peeling and coring apples for pie, it will be herb jelly time, just the thing for the winter pantry.
Herb Jelly inspired by Pam Corbin (makes 4 half-pint jars or so)
2 lbs apples, chopped into ½-inch pieces, including skin and cores (8-9 cups)
1 bunch mint and/or rosemary (about 1 cup torn mint, or 1 cup rosemary leaves)
Sugar (about 3 cups)
1/3 cup cider vinegar
Put the chopped apples and herbs in a large soup pot and barely cover with water. Bring water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cooked, covered for about 45 minutes or until very soft. Pour into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl (or a sieve lined with cheesecloth) and let drain a minimum of two hours or overnight.
Place a saucer in the freezer before you start so that you have a cold surface to gauge the gel. Measure the strained juice and for every cup, measure out ¾ cup of granulated sugar. (I had 4 cups of liquid and measured 3 cups of sugar.) Combine the juice and the vinegar in a deep pot and bring to a boil, slowly adding the sugar. Boil rapidly for 10-12 minutes (or longer, depending on your apples), until the gel point is reached (222 degrees on a candy thermometer or until a drop placed on a cold saucer doesn’t run and wrinkles when touched.
Spoon the jelly to prepared sterilized jars. If you are planning on inserting herbs, let the jars cool for 8-10 minutes so that the jelly becomes stiff enough to suspend them. Dunk the herbs in boiling water before inserting in the jars. Cap with sterilized lids and place in water bath canner. Cook at a rolling boil for 10 minutes, then turn off heat, remove cover and let stand for 5 minutes until removing the jars to cool completely before storing.