By Mark Fike
Summer is many things. For my household, it is a time to go berry picking and put some of that sweetness up for an all-year-long treat. Making jelly is so simple, it is amazing how few people actually do this.
In my part of the country, blueberries are in season as are raspberries. Blackberries are coming on strong too. Each year, we put up an entire year’s worth of jelly in two to three weeks. We often make extra when possible to give to friends at Christmas or when visiting at Thanksgiving. These gifts take time to make but the effort is not expensive.
Anyone can make jelly or jam. Here are the basic items you will need to make your own jelly or jam.
Canning jars with rims and lids, Sure-Jell fruit pectin, berries, sugar, a canner, juice master or cheese cloth, bowls and pot to boil the juice. All of these items can be obtained at your local grocery store or a box store.
Part of the fun, especially during this COVID event, is to get the family out and go pick berries. Wear long pants, bug spray and a hat. Picking berries in the wild puts you in the wild with ticks, deer flies and other insects. Watch for snakes too. I wear boots to maneuver in briars and I tend to favor thick pants despite the heat. Heavy Riggs Workwear pants for men work great. Bird hunting or rabbit hunting briar pants are awesome for this, but hot of course.
Pick berries early and late and I recommend not picking after a recent rain. Rain leaves vegetation wet which makes you wet and berries tend to not be as sweet as they would be after a dry spell. Look for berries along logging roads or recently clear cut areas. State wildlife or forest areas or parks may allow berry picking too. Be sure to obtain permission before wandering onto someone else’s land.
Once you have your berries, take them home, check yourself for ticks and wash your berries with cold water and drain the water off so as to not dilute the sugar content in the fruit.
The basic Sure-Jell recipe is in the box of Sure-Jell. A summary of the instructions (for planning purposes only) is as follows:
Wash fruit, measure out amount of fruit needed and extract the juice. You can do it old school and squeeze the fruit in a cheese cloth bag over a bowl to let the juice drain out and remove the seeds and fibrous parts. A second option is that you can get a Sauce Master or other related appliance and strain out the seeds or you can make jam, leaving the seeds in.
The Sure-Jell has a jam and jelly recipe. I prefer jelly, but if you like jam, it is easier to make. Once your fruit or juice is prepared, pour it in a pot on high, stir in the pectin and sugar called for in the recipe and bring to a boil for one full minute.
Immediately pour into jars to within ¼ inch of the top and screw on lids. I use a pitcher to make it cleaner and easier to pour in the jars. Jars of jelly or jam need processed in the canner for a few minutes depending on the size of jars and altitude you are at. Lids will seal during this process. Let the jars cool and store in a cool, dry place.
Sure-Jell has recipes for freezer jam and jelly too. I prefer to can mine, so I don’t have to worry about the power going out and my jelly going bad if it stays out.
There are plenty of recipes online for jelly and jam. You can experiment with various recipes and blends this summer. The nice thing about making your own jelly is you know what went into it and you can feel good about it when you spread it on your muffin or toast. I think about those warm summer days as I spread a generous helping of it on my toast on a bitterly cold winter morning.