Late one summer at my grandparents’ house, one of their neighbors dropped by with a giant brown grocery bag full of scuppernongs (those are wild, tough-skinned, sweet white grapes, for any Yankees reading this — haha). My MaMa looked at the heavy bag on her kitchen table and said, “Well. Let’s make some jelly!” We gathered supplies, boiled grapes, squeezed the pulp through cheesecloth to strain out the skins and seeds, added pectin and sugar, and poured it off into little jars. It was the best grape jelly ever.
My MaMa always seemed to have homemade jelly or preserves on the table. Apple or plum were the usual jelly choices, and fig or peach were the fabulously chunky preserves.
Ever since I began foraging for wild food (several years ago), I’ve wanted to make jelly. I keep telling myself “This is the year I’m gonna DO it!” And then I don’t gather enough, or I’m missing a crucial ingredient or piece of equipment, or I totally miss gathering what’s in season until it’s over.
Well folks, (*trumpet flourish*) this is the year I finally did it. Yay me!
Last weekend’s mulberry picking excursion didn’t yield enough berries for jelly. So I froze those, and Saturday we went to shake the trees again. We gathered all we could reach, and headed back home.
Yesterday I gathered all my equipment and ingredients. I watched a buttload of YouTube videos to help get the process straight in my head. This one most succinctly explained the water bath canning process and the equipment needed:
I found a few mulberry jelly videos, but this black raspberry one was the one I ended up lifting the most from:
The one piece of equipment I lack is a jar rack for the water bath. I’d read that you don’t really need one, so I looked up a few ways to improvise. This video was helpful, and I adore redberrychick’s DIY style, as well as that redneck accent. Adorable! I want to hang out on the porch and drink wine with her:
I tried the ring thing, but I don’t have twisty ties and the jars kept falling over. I ended up going with the folded up towel, but that ended up being wobbly and weird. I’m getting a jar rack for next time.
Some observations of note from my jelly making process:
1. I didn’t have cheesecloth, so instead of sending my Herban Cowboy out for some, I used a clean white cloth diaper (that had never been used for doodie duty) to strain it. It worked pretty well, but I think the cheesecloth would be better for straining fruit pulp. Next time.
2. Eleven cups of mulberries only yielded 2 cups of juice. This totally bummed my jelly high. I had to make a half batch.
3. I boiled my jelly too long and ended up reducing it, resulting in a VERY sticky and thick syrup. We’ll see how this affects the final product.
4. Cleanup sucks. The bad news is that mulberry pulp gets everywhere and stains everything. The good news is that it’s a beautiful shade of purple.
All those years of planning and procrastinating, the money spent on equipment, all the time spent, the cleanup work and a learning curve that encompasses stains and burns — and I made three jars of jelly.
I should be crying in frustration, but instead I am SO excited. The money’s already spent, now I know what to do, the jars are reusable, foraged fruit is free, I’ll be faster next time, what can I make next, somebody stop me!
Maybe I should wait until I taste the jelly before I get TOO excited. I gave one jar to D, who had driven us all around Chatham County searching for fruiting trees. The other two sit, with their tightly sealed lids, on my counter. I’m supposed to wait at least 24 hours before I open one. We’ll see if I can wait that long………