I’ve been making really fun jellies since the spring, when I started with flowers – dandelions, violets and Queen Anne’s lace. Now as the growing season winds down and many herbs are flourishing in their last hurrah before the cold, I’ve been focused on herbs – rose geranium, mint, lemon basil and lemon verbena for now. Last year I made rosemary and mint jelly and sage jelly, both good. I passed up a bunch of aromatic pineapple sage a few weeks ago, and now I regret that.
We use jellies not only with toast and biscuits or as a condiment, but also as a glaze for cakes, poultry, and roasted root vegetables. I’ve also been known to add them to coconut milk to make sorbet or use them in conjunction with poaching fruit. A little flavor booster.
While my flower jellies used powdered pectin (a substance I typically avoid), my herb jellies take advantage of seasonal tart apples for the base. The technique is simple: simmer apples and herbs in water to cover for about 45 minutes, without mashing anything. Pour the mixture into a jelly bag (or cheesecloth-lined sieve) suspended over a bowl to catch the juice and leave it sit overnight. Add ¾ cup of sugar for every cup of liquid and some acid (vinegar or lemon juice) and cook the mixture quickly until it tests for gel, usually about 10 minutes for the small amounts I make. If you are adding little snippets of leaves to the jelly, let the jelly sit in the jars for a few minutes before adding the leaves so that they will be suspended in the ever-gelling liquid. Store in the refrigerator or process in a water bath canner.
For the rose geranium jelly, I used pink-skinned apples because I wanted the jelly to be rose-colored. I added 2 tbsp lemon juice. I was skeptical about the level of naturally occurring pectin so I used ½ teaspoonful of powdered pectin, probably a good move. For the lemon basil jelly, I used tart Granny Smith apples and lemon juice, and it set up well by itself.
8-10 medium apples, chopped into ½-inch pieces, including skin and cores
1 c torn leaves of herbs (use stems also when herbs are tender, like basil)
1/4 c lemon juice or 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 cook, covered, for 45 minutes or until very soft. Pour into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl (or a sieve lined with cheesecloth) and let the mixture drain a minimum of two hours or overnight.
If you are going to preserve the jelly via water bath canning, prepared the jars and lids.
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, add ¾ cup of granulated sugar. (I had 4 cups of liquid and measured 3 cups of sugar.) Combine the apple-herb liquid, sugar, and lemon juice or vinegar in a wide pot and bring to a boil. Boil rapidly for 10-12 minutes (or longer, depending on your apples), until the gel point is reached (when a drop placed on a cold saucer doesn’t run and wrinkles when touched or until the temperature reaches 221 degrees on a candy thermometer – though I find the saucer test most reliable).
Spoon the jelly into prepared 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. And make sure that they are not trapping air at the edge of 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.