In the comments section of this post I promised to Sasha that I would share some photos of my elderberry jam-making. Here’s what happened.
We picked a lot of elderberries. This is easy at the moment: the hedges surrounding our favourite dog-walking haunts are full of elderberries, so we headed out on Saturday morning, plastic bag and scissors primed and ready.
We picked blackberries as well, since they were also ripe and because I figured that they’d go nicely with the elderberries.
The next – and incredibly laborious – stage was to wash the elderberries and remove them from their stalks. This was made more exciting by the vast number of beetles which make the elderberry bush their home. It took so long to get rid of all of them. Just when I thought I had seen off the last beetle, another one would stroll out of what I had thought was a beetle-free bowl of berries, forcing me to begin the washing and checking process once again. I swear, by the end I think I washed every single elderberry separately. Nobody wants beetle-flavoured jam, so it was all worth it.
Removing the berries from their stalks is a real faff. You don’t want too many stalks to get in (although some stalk inclusion is inevitable), so I did half of the job by running the tines of a fork down the stems and the other half of the job by hand (trying not to stain anything with juice – this stuff doesn’t come out very easily, apparently).
Finally, I had a saucepan with washed and beetle-free elderberries and blackberries, so I added the juice and pips from three lemons (because elderberries are fairly low in pectin, which is what makes jam set), covered the fruit with water, put the lid on the saucepan and set it to simmer for an hour.
I had decided to make jelly, rather than jam: elderberries and blackberries are too ‘bitty’ and not very nice to chew. So the next step was to drain the pulpy fruit through muslin. I did this by putting it in a colandar and propping that up on two tall tins, suspending the dripping fruit over a bowl. You’re supposed to leave it overnight to drip, but I gave it about an hour because I wanted to finish the job in one afternoon.
Then came the actual jelly making. The first job was to sterilise the jam jars. I don’t know why people find this part of jam making a bit of a struggle: all you need to do it get things clean and hot. I do it by washing the jars and lids in hot soapy water and then putting them in an otherwise-empty dishwasher and running it on a fast cycle, with no detergent added. I’ve always used this technique to sterilise my jars and it seems to do the trick – on Saturday morning I opened a jar of jam from three summers ago and it was still in perfect condition and mould-free.
I threw away the elderberries and blackberries and measured the juice back into the saucepan, adding preserving sugar in the correct quantities (and I very rarely use anything but metric measurements, but the old-school measurements were far easier to calculate in this case: one pound of sugar for each pint of juice). I heated it slowly and kept stirring so the sugar would dissolve, and then I turned up the heat and left it to boil for ten minutes without stirring.
I tested it three times (you put a china plate in the freezer and test the jelly by placing a few drops of jelly on the cold plate: it’s done when you can push the jelly with a fingertip and make it wrinkle). It was done after 15 minutes or so: I could have taken it off a couple of minutes earlier, I think, but this was my first time making jelly, so I was a little cautious.
The last step was to use a slotted spoon to remove any scum from the top of the jelly (there wasn’t much). Then I used a soup ladle to put the jelly into the jars. I stand the jars in a roasting tray for this stage, to avoid getting jelly all over the kitchen. I had made a small batch and produced two and a half jars.
Here are the jars, all ready to go. You tighten the lids as much as you can when the jelly has first been added to the jars, and the cooling process seems to tighten them further.
Finally, I tried the jelly this morning for the first time.
Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that I don’t really like the taste of elderberries. Never mind: at least I know how to make jelly now. And it was nice to potter around in the kitchen for the afternoon. This is me being very cheerful, obviously. It’s pretty annoying to spend an afternoon making something that you end up disliking!