The hedgerows are laden with berries and local apples are starting to appear, so this is the perfect time of year for making preserves, especially if you’ve never attempted anything like this before. This very simple jelly recipe of mine is suitable for any quantity of fruit, so you could always start by just making a couple of jars if you’re a beginner.
There are a few points to bear in mind before you start:
- the fruit you use should preferably be one containing plenty of pectin (in this case, the cooking apples). Pectin is a naturally occurring enzyme that helps the jelly to set and is especially concentrated in the pips, cores and skin of the fruit so they all go into the pan too!
- choose fruit that is slightly under-ripe rather than over as this will contain more pectin.
- these fruits have a high level of pectin – apples, black and redcurrants, gooseberries, plums and lemons – so any of them may be combined with other fruits to make a jelly of your choice. (It’s possible to buy something called “jam sugar” which I believe has pectin added to it, but I’ve never tried using it)
- have some clean, dry jam jars and lids ready. Sterilise them by putting them into a hot oven for 5 or 10 minutes
- choose your heaviest pan to cook the fruit in. The fruit will be boiling for a while and tends to stick to the bottom of the pan if it’s too thin
- you’ll need something to strain the cooked fruit through to produce the juice that will be the basis for the jelly. In an ideal world this would be a jelly bag and stand, but otherwise a clean pillowcase and an upturned stool would serve the same purpose. You just need to fathom out some way of suspending the said pillowcase from the stool so that the juice may slowly drip through in it’s own time!
- ideally, especially if this is your first attempt at jelly making, choose a time when you are unaccompanied by small children (or children of any size, for that matter). They have an awful tendency to demand your attention at a crucial point in the process and can lead to disasters such as forgetting to put the sugar in or mislaying the jam jars! (I speak from personal experience!)
Recipe and Method
Start with any quantity of fruit. If you use apples and blackberries as I did, it doesn’t matter how many of each you use. More blackberries will make a darker jelly, but the colour will be lovely no matter how many you use.
Roughly chop the fruit and put it into the pan. There’s no need to peel and core the apples – just chuck everything in! That’s where most of the magical pectin is! Add enough cold water to just cover the fruit and then cover the pan with a lid.
Bring the fruit to the boil and leave it to simmer for about 2 – 3 hours. Give it a stir with a wooden spoon every now and then to make sure it’s not catching on the bottom of the pan, otherwise it may be left happily to it’s own devices.
This might be a good time to attempt to suspend the aforementioned pillowcase to the upturned stool if necessary (or enlist help to do so) or to assemble the jelly bag and stand if you’re fortunate enough to possess one. The fruit will be straining overnight so try to find a spot where it may be left undisturbed.
When the fruit has simmered for the required time, pour the entire contents of the pan into the ready and waiting straining bag (make sure you have a suitably sized bowl underneath to catch the precious juice!). Do not at any point squeeze the straining bag or press the fruit down as this will make the jelly cloudy!
Measure how much of the precious juice has strained through the jelly bag into the basin. Put into a clean, preferably heavy bottomed, pan. For every pint of juice that you have you will need 1lb of white sugar, but don’t add it to the juice just yet. Some people say to warm the sugar first, but as I keep mine in the airing cupboard anyway (don’t ask!) I don’t bother doing that.
Bring the juice slowly to the boil then add the sugar to the pan. Keep stirring it with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring the pan back to the boil and then boil it rapidly for 15 minutes at first. The purpose of this boiling is for the jelly to reach setting point.
In the meantime assemble the jam jars and lids and put a couple of saucers in the fridge to chill (we’ll be putting a bit of the jelly on these to see whether they’ve reached setting point).
After the initial 15 minutes is up, put about ½ a teaspoon of the juice onto one of the saucers from the fridge. Put it back into the fridge for about 5 minutes. Don’t turn the heat off under the pan – just leave it boiling.
Take the saucer and jelly out of the fridge. Use a finger to push the bit of jelly along the saucer. If it wrinkles this means that the jelly has reached setting point. If it’s still smooth and runny you need to boil the jelly for longer. Repeat this process every 5 minutes or so until the elusive setting point is reached.
As a guide, when I made this jelly yesterday it took 35 minutes to reach setting point. It all depends on which fruits have been used and in what proportion and will be different every time you make jelly. It’s all to do with the pectin!
When the setting point has been reached, breathe a deep sigh of relief, then pour the jelly into the jam jars and put the lids on. Put them in a safe place to cool and then stand back and admire their beauty.
Once you’ve successfully made your first batch of jelly try experimenting with other combinations of fruits. The method is always the same (including the amount of sugar you’ll need to use) but every batch will be a different colour.