Along the Grapevine


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Peony Jelly

Here is a way to preserve the exquisite colour and scent of your peonies – a flower which graces our gardens for an all too short period in the early summer. Serve it with your favourite buttered scone, as a garnish to fruit salad or just about any other dessert. 

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Freshly picked peonies

I have recently been experimenting with floral flavours from my garden as they appear – just the edible ones of which there are more than you would think. The easiest way to use them is often mixing them half and half with sugar, grinding them and allowing them to dry to be used as a sweetener. Jellies, perhaps the most obvious use, are a little more challenging. Pectin and some form or acid are necessary to get the desired consistency are necessary, but working out the ideal proportions and cooking time have proved to be a little challenging, leaving me at times with something either too thin or too thick. Also, not all pectins are made equal, so even when following a recipe the results can be disappointing.

Peony Jelly on Punk Domestics

For my first effort, I used a combination of white and red flowers – being careful to pick the ones with the best scent. I also used liquid pectin which might have been the reason that I needed a suspiciously large amount (2 packages) and long period of cooking. The result was satisfactory, the colour and flavour were better than I had hoped for, but the recipe was just too complicated and required too much cooking to share. So a second effort was called for.

This time I chose them for the colour – mostly red and some pink. I used powdered pectin, Certo pectin crystals to be exact. The cooking time was reduced by about one third and the consistency was perfect. While the white ones did give a beautiful reddish amber colour, the red and pink produced a stunning ruby colour, so if colour matters, go for the red as long as they have a good strong scent. This picture shows the difference of colour, although in photographs the contrast is not so pronounced.

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Second batch on left

Peony Jelly

Ingredients
4 cups peony petals, tightly packed
4 cups boiling water
1/2 lemon
1/2 package certo pectin crystals
2 cups sugar

Method: Put the petals in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Use a plate on top to press them down and make sure they are all covered in water. Leave to infuse for 6 hours. Strain them through a cloth and ring tightly to get all the liquid out. Discard the petals. Pour this liquid (I had 2 cups) into a pot, add the strained juice of the half lemon, the pectin and 2 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, until it reaches 215 degrees F or 104 C if you have a thermometer. Otherwise you can put a small spoonful on a chilled dish and and when it cools it should set. Also, it is ready when the bubbling becomes so vigorous it does not subside when you put a spoon in it.

Pour it into sterilised jars and let cool. This recipe made 6 1/4 pint jars

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Petals after soaking for 6 hours in water

There are so many ways to use floral jellies. One of my favourites is to use it to sweeten tea while sometimes with fresh buttered bread or biscuits alongside tea is preferred. It also works well as a garnish.

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Fruit and granola topped with plain yogurt and jelly

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #124, Love in the Kitchen and Spades, Spatulas and Spoons.


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Sea Buckthorn Jelly

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My seabuckthorn plants are flourishing, and the three female plants are producing far more berries than I can pick. They are also reproducing at an almost alarming rate, although the lawn mower has unwittingly taken care of some of the shoots coming from, I believe, the male plant. Their rate of growth is encouraging, and I expect some of the seeds will find their way into neighbouring properties, so foraging sea buckthorn in this area might become a reality before long.

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I have written about this remarkable shrub in an earlier post, but since then have learned some practical tips about how to harvest them. They are difficult to pick. They are indeed thorny, and the small berries are soft with a very thin skin, so as soon as you apply a little pressure when picking, they tend to collapse and squirt you with sticky juice. However, if a few branches are snipped off and put in the freezer for a day, they can then be removed from the branches quite easily. As the plants need some good pruning anyway, this is the perfect time to do it.

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If you find them in a local market, this is the way they will be displayed – thick clusters still on the branches.

The delicate leaves can also be removed to make a delicious tisane.

Seabuckthorn Jelly on Punk Domestics

As for the berries, I decided to make a jelly which would be an easy way to preserve them, and presumably a useful addition to my pantry. I used only one cup of berries, and did not worry too much if some of the woody bits attached to the base were still attached as it would all be strained after the first cooking.

To make the jelly, I covered the berries with water and cooked them until soft – about ten minutes. I strained them, added a little hot water to the pulp and strained them again.

For two cups of strained juice, I added three cups of organic sugar. This I brought to a boil and then simmered until it reached a temperature of 235 degrees F or 120 C. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you will know it is ready when it reaches the soft ball stage.

 

Pour into a jar and let cool. The amount of sugar in this means that it will keep for a few weeks, so I didn’t worry about processing it. I didn’t even remove the foam from the top because it too is just as tasty!

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The flavour of the sour raw berries is not appreciated by everyone, perhaps because it is so unfamiliar, but once cooked with sugar it has a fruity caramel taste. It makes a wonderful spread, but can also be used in baking, desserts, as a glaze or a sweetener for drinks. In short, anywhere you might use honey.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #94


10 Comments

Apple and Goldenrod Jelly

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This is the last of my series of three goldenrod recipes. The stuff is still blooming everywhere I look, and it is tempting to keep picking, but I’ll just settle for lots of ‘tea’ to help ward off allergies for the rest of the season. There are just too many other fun things out there to experiment with, and time is running out as the days and mostly nights get markedly colder.

This jelly is very simple really – just apple jelly using goldenrod tea in place of water. Simple as it is, the flavour is distinctively herbal and delicious variation.

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You could follow any apple jelly recipe such as this one and use the goldenrod tea as liquid. For mine, I had three pounds of tart apples picked from a local tree. I covered it with the goldenrod liquid, cooked it until the apples were good and soft. Then I strained it through a jelly bag (or several layers of cheesecloth) overnight and discarded the pulp. For four cups of liquid, I added three of sugar and one-half package of pectin. Because the apples already have pectin, I didn’t need much, but the pectin meant I could get away with using less sugar.

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I cooked the apple, goldenrod and sugar until it came to a full boil and the sugar was dissolved, added the pectin and cooked a further minute, then bottled. I didn’t use the canning process for it because I’m not sure if there was enough sugar or acid content, so I just froze the extra. I prefer to have a less sweet jelly even if it does mean having to store it in the freezer.

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I was hoping for a golden colour to match the flavour, but am otherwise happy with this unusual and very seasonal recipe. Here I served it on an English muffin with semi-clotted cream, but I’ll save that for another post when I have perfected the process.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #86.

Related Links: Goldenrod Tea; Goldenrod Highball


11 Comments

Chokecherry Jelly

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I spotted a few chockecherry (prunus virginiana) trees in the spring near our house with their early white blossoms and determined then that this year I would watch for the berries to appear later in the year. This is the now the height of the season, but you have to be fast as the birds are fond of them, and have a distinct advantage over us in harvesting them.

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The berries start out red, but should not be picked until they have turned very dark – almost black and starting to shrivel. The flavour is that of a cherry, but somewhat more astringent, and this astringency decreases with age, and again with cooking. They are much smaller than regular cherries, and have a higher proportion of seed to fruit, but they are so easy to pick so you can still get lots of pulp from them.

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To identify them, look for oval leaves with serrated edges. The leaf is dark with a lighter underside. The berries hang in cluster off reddish stems. They are popular not only with birds but also caterpillars. If you have these trees on your property, you should check for tent caterpillars and remove them.

The fruit is high in antioxidants and has many uses. Jams, jellies, syrups and wine are the most common, but they can also be dried, seeds and all, and ground into a flour. This is one of the ingredients of pemican, but I’m sure in modern-day cooking we can find other uses.

As I was only able to collect a small amount of berries and have never used them before, I decided to make a simple jelly. I had two cups of berries.

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I covered them with water in a pan and simmered them until soft. Then I strained them through a food mill. I returned the pulp to the pan, added more water to cover and repeated cooking and straining process.

I ended up with 2 cups of juice, to which I added 2 cups of sugar. After bringing it to a full rolling boil, I added one 57 gram package of Certo pectin and allowed to boil 2 more minutes, then poured into 6 sterilized 100 ml. jars with a little to spare. DSC02553

Chokecherry Jelly on Punk Domestics

Serving it on fresh scones with clotted or whipped cream or plain yogurt is just one of the ways this rich jelly can be enjoyed.

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A Dessert of Wine and Roses

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This is a dessert I have been thinking about for some time, but had to wait for wild strawberries to be in season. It has taken me a couple of weeks to collect the berries, about half a cup which I picked every time I was out weeding, and popped them in the freezer until I had enough.

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This is a super light dessert – a perfect finale to a rich dinner. It contains wine, fruit and sugar. All sorts of variations could be tried, and strawberries are not essential – any other fruit would do. It consists of three simple parts: a mixture of unsweetened apple sauce and wine; a jelly made of rose scented geranium syrup with strawberries; some kind of garnish.

For the base I used apple sauce made from last year’s feral apples and a dry red wine. I mixed 1 part of wine with 2 parts apple sauce.

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The jelly was made from a simple syrup made from a ratio of 2:1 sugar and water mixture boiled with the addition of the rose geranium. Rosewater to taste is a possible alternative. I added the strawberries to the jelly and when set, cut it in small cubes. This is the sweet part of the dessert. Spoon applesauce/wine mixture into individual bowls alternately with cubes of jelly.

As a garnish, I made a granita from watermelon and more rose syrup. This was done by blending some fresh, ripe watermelon with syrup according to how sweet you want it. I processed it in an ice cream maker, but it can also be done just by scraping with a fork several times during the freezing process.

I am bringing this to Fiesta Friday #73, and hope that some of the guests will be inspired by this simple, delicious and romantic dessert.

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Related posts:

Olive oil ice cream with balsamic wild strawberries

Wild greens and strawberries with chocolate balsamic dressing

Wild apple and rose geranium jelly


32 Comments

Honeysuckle Syrup

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I am still learning my way around our property. Last year I discovered for the first time a huge honeysuckle bush, and as I went to visit it recently I discovered four more. I took this as a sign that I should continue to experiment with floral recipes.

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I wasn’t very optimistic, as sweet smelling flowers often have a bitter taste with little of the sweetness associated with the scent. However, I was encouraged by as post by the Green Lizard on making lilac jelly and decided to harvest some of the honeysuckle blossoms. My experiment was not a total success, but I believe I know where I made the mistake. Nonetheless the thin jelly got renamed a syrup, and it is every bit as useful and delicious as a jelly. Sometimes I love my mistakes.

Here’s where I went wrong. I decided to make my own pectin from some dried crabapples. Crabapples are full of pectin and by simply boiling them in water and straining the liquid which can be canned the same as any preserve, you have a perfect ingredient for making jams and jellies all season long. I figured dried crabapples would work just as well. My mistake I believe was not to boil them long enough. When I tested for the pectin content after only a few minutes, I noticed it was a bit weak, but thought it would do. Not quite.

To test if your pectin mixture is ready, just add a spoonful of the liquid into a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Then wait a minute or two, and if you can scoop some of the juice onto a fork and not have it all run off, then it is ready.  I did detect a gelled effect, but only slightly, so there was my mistake.

To make the jelly (or in this case syrup) you will need a lot of petals – not necessarily honeysuckle but any edible flower you want to use – at least two quarts. Pick flowers which are opened but fresh looking, and remove the calyx.

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Cover the petals with water and simmer for about 10 minutes, then cool and refrigerate a few hours or preferably overnight to extract as much of the flavour as possible. Strain and mix 4 parts liquid with five parts sugar, the juice of half a lemon and 1 cup crabapple pectin. Bring it all to a boil and simmer for about five minutes. A small amount of the jelly should set when poured onto a chilled saucer. Skim any foam off and pour into sterilized mason jars. I found the heat of the syrup poured into freshly sterilized jars (by setting them in boiled water for 10 minutes) was sufficient to seal them. I tightened the lids and set them upside down until cool.

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Two things I discovered: the unappealing colour of the cooked blossoms transformed as soon as I added the pectin mixture, and even more so after the addition of sugar;  the flavour was very honey-like, and there was no trace of the bitterness found in the fresh flower. Although it was not as thick as a jelly should be, it was like a good quality liquid honey and can be used in similar ways.

I have already found several uses for this tasty syrup:

Add a spoonful to a cup of your favourite tea. I never take sugar in my tea, but this gives a wonderful floral bouquet without too much sweetness;

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Pour some over a milk dessert, such as rice pudding;

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Serve with waffles or pancakes;

Mix with soda water for a cool drink with ice cubes.

Here’s hoping we have a good crabapple season this year, and that last week’s frost hasn’t nipped them in the bud!


46 Comments

Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly

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Although our crab apples are not doing well this year, we do have one wild apple tree which is doing fine. You probably know the kind of apple I am talking about, the ones no one wants to pick, much less eat. They are small, irregular in shape and full of spots. On the other hand, they are pesticide and chemical free, and when cooked retain a good flavour and have a lovely colour. They are perfect for making things like jelly, where their appearance as a fruit does not affect the appearance of the final product. And why use perfect looking apples to make something like jelly?

For Angie’s Fiesta Friday #30 I wanted to make a special jelly, so added some flavour with my rose scented geranium. I notice this week there are a few recipes with rose flavouring, so this is turning out to be a bit of a rose fest.

This is the first year I have grown such a plant, but I hope to add other varieties to my collection of one next year. Although they don’t flower profusely like other geraniums, they do provide a delicious home-grown flavouring with their leaves and flowers. Mine is not flowering just now, but it does have some new buds, and the plant itself has grown beautifully since I planted it in the spring. For more information about these plants, read this here. I highly recommend adding one of these to your garden, even if all you have is a balcony or stoop, as they provide a wonderful source of exotic flavour from leaves and flowers.

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If you don’t have a scented geranium, there are other things you could add to this jelly, such as a stick of cinnamon, some ginger, sweet herbs, orange blossom or rose water towards the end of cooking, or whatever you think mixes well with apple.

I began my recipe with two pounds of apples, but once I removed the cores, stems and nasty bits there was only one and three quarter pounds. This recipe can be altered to fit the amount you have just by changing the amount of the other ingredients proportionately.

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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

 Ingredients

2 lbs apples

water, to cover

2 1/2 cups sugar

5 scented geranium leaves

Method

Chop and clean the apples without peeling. Place them in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer them until soft, about 1/2 hour. Strain through a jelly bag or cloth lined sieve. Do not press, or the juice will not be clear.

Pour off the juice, which in this recipe measured three cups. Return to the pan and add the sugar and leaves which should be tied up in a spice bag or piece of cheesecloth.

Bring to a boil and keep boiling for about 25 minutes. To test doneness, just drop a bit of liquid on a cool surface and see if it gels.

If you make a large quantity, this can be processed in a 10 minute water bath.

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Wild Apple and Rose Geranium Jelly on Punk Domestics

At this time last year I posted a recipe using purslane:https://alongthegrapevine.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/purslane-and-cabbage-salad/