The first jelly I ever made was out of the wild foraging legend Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus. It was made from elderberry and sumac. And forever after making jelly and jam has been lashed tightly to such wild adventures as sudden stops along country roads and climbing up forgotten hillsides around the city in search of clearings covered in berries.
Fruit and berries, as we know, are among the most fleeting of the fleet, so preserving such limited time special flavors is special to the utmost. Due to their higher sugar content, mashing them up with enough liquid gives us a soda, a brew, and/ or ultimately vinegar. All of those products are expressions of the fruit or berry with the soft or hard kiss of fermentation attached to it. To preserve fruit’s fresher summery personality here comes sugar more.
70 degrees brix is the amount of sugar content honey needs to resist spoilage. A ripe apple alone only has upwards of maybe around 13 brix. By boiling the fruit we can concentrate the sugars, while also, naturally, adding sugar to also bump up the brix.
Jam is the fruit or berry cooked down slowly. To make it simply cook down the fruit (perhaps with a splash of water as necessary to keep it from burning) then add as much or as little sugar as you wish until it is dissolved, you may even add none. The more sugar the better it will be at preserving. 1:1 fruit to sugar is common, but too sweet for me. Gosh, I wanna be able to taste the fruit still, so 1: 1/2 suits me better if I do add some. Adding a slight pinch of salt too really lifts the flavor better than not.
Those familiar with jelly making are likely aware of the distinct difference between jelly and jam and that’s the added ingredient of pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring plant fiber that creates that gelatin “set” character rather than jam’s oozy one. Some ingredients contain enough of their own pectin that no additional pectin needs to be added. Most commonly we’ll head to the grocery stores to get little packets of it in powdered form when we’re attempting to make a jelly with something lacking ample enough pectin to set itself. However with some planning this isn’t absolutely necessary. Taking the fruits naturally high in pectin like underripe apples, rosehips, cranberries, and the rind of grapefruits, oranges, and lemons we can make our own. The first packaged pectin was made from scraps leftover from a large apple juice producer. Here’s the technique:
Chop up fruit scraps like cores, peels, and peices- everything- and place in a pot with enough water until it’s not quite covered. Bring to a boil, then take your time simmering everything until the apple parts are good and mushy. Then let it strain in a suspended cheesecloth overnight. The remaining liquid is your pectin that should work with about ¼ cup per a cup of jelly- though that’s a pretty open-ended estimate.
The downside to adding pectin whether powdered or homemade is that it will take on some of the flavor, which in a storebought sense is sort of tart appley. The upside is that we can make jelly out of anything- kombucha, coffee, wine, flower syrups…
To make jelly, fruits and berries that have their own pectin first need boiled down to mush in order to access it, but regardless this generally goes for whatever you’re working with. Add enough water to cover your fruit and boil and simmer until the flavors are released. Then strain out the solids and the resulting juice can be measured then reboiled with roughly a 1:1 ratio of sugar. Whisk in pectin if needed. If using a storebought packet, follow their instructions. Check the “set” of the jelly by cooling off a small scoop of it on a metal spoon and popping it in the fridge or freezer to see if a film develops. Continue to simmer it until reaching the desired set.
Both jam and jelly can be preserved in jars passed through a hot water bath or just popped into the fridge. If a little mold pops up on the surface it’s usually no big deal to just scrape it off.