Our family’s favorite Christmas tradition is making gifts. The best gift to give is one that can be eaten–we all have to eat! We make jelly because the whole family can be involved and most folks love it. From the fruit picking to packaging and tying up with bows, everyone can play a part (even little ones).
I learned to make jelly from my grandmother. She was a farm woman and always canned whatever was in season. She had apple orchards near her home where we picked apples by the bushel. We carted them home so I could take her Jelly Making 101 class (and impress my new husband). Making jelly isn’t hard, it simply takes time (and makes a BIG mess). No matter how easy jelly is to pick up at your local supermarket, it will never taste as sweet as what you make yourself. This Christmas, try it and see!
My mother in-law is a jelly maker too. She introduced me to the wild plums near their cabin on Lake Texoma. We pick the plums in June. If you try to eat this small plum straight off the vine, it is so tart, it will make you pucker. But simply add 7 cups of sugar and you have pure gold. It makes the sweetest and most flavorful jelly you’ll ever put in your mouth.
Because we pick a large quantity of fruit, I make my jelly in stages. I freeze the fresh fruit at picking time, can the juice by early fall and make the jelly just before Christmas. Here’s the jelly making process in three easy steps:
Pick and Freeze the Fruit
You can make jelly out of nearly any fruit. Once you have picked your fruit of choice, place in freezer quality Zip Lock bags, labeled and dated. Do NOT rinse your berries prior to freezing as this causes them to turn mushy when defrosted. I wait and rinse once I defrost, just prior to cooking.
Can the Juice
- In the fall, remove the frozen fruit and rinse it in a large colander.
- Fill a deep stock pot to the top with fruit that has been washed.
- Add 2-3 cups of water to the bottom of the pot and bring it to boil. Once boiling, reduce the temperature to low and simmer 2-4 hours, pressing out the juices with a potato masher or large wooden spoon. I use a ladel and strainer to dip off as much juice as I can. This juice goes into clean, hot jars. I use fresh Ball or Kerr canning lids and quart size jars.
- Once the jars are full (leave 1 inch at the top), place a warm lid on the jar. I put my lids in a pan of water on the stovetop to heat them up prior to placing on the jar. Then gently screw the band on, leaving it a bit loose. When the jar has sealed properly, it will “pop”, leaving a small indentation on the top of the jar. You can then tighten down the band.
- Store in a cool, dark place.
Make the Jelly
This is the easy and somewhat messy part. Before you begin, gather and lay out all your supplies. You can’t leave boiling juice on the stove to go gather things, so get organized first.
Supplies You Need (makes roughly 18 4 oz jars of jelly):
- Jelly Roll pan, lined with parchment paper
- Clean jelly jars (If using 4 oz, approx 18 jars; if using 8 oz, 12)
- 5 1/2 cups of canned juice
- 1 tbsp Butter
- 2 tsp. Cinnamon (if you wish to make spiced jelly)
- 1 box of Sure Jell
- 1 Box Gulf Wax (with clean empty tin can for melting on stove top)
- Pot Holders
- 6 1/2 cups of sugar (pre-measured for your recipe)
- Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
- Place clean jars in stock pot of water on medium heat (placing boiling liquid into a cold jar runs the risk of breaking it). In a separate deep pot, place 5 1/2 cups of plum juice.
- Add 1 tablespoon of butter (to minimize foaming) and one box of Sure Jell (the pectin that makes the jelly the right consistency).
- Stir over high heat till mixture begins to boil.
- Add 6 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir constantly till jelly returns to a boil and boil hard for one minute (a boil that can’t be stirred down). Remove from stove, skim off any foam.
- Remove hot jars from stock pot using thongs and place onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. This will ensure your countertops don’t get dirty while you pour the jelly. I also use a funnel to be exact and minimize the mess.
- Quickly ladle the jelly into hot jars. Leave room for the wax at top (1/2 an inch).
- To seal for a short time, use melted Gulf wax. I place mine in a clean tin can (any vegetable) and heat in a small pan of water till it melts.
- Wipe the jars clean, then pour 1/2 inch of wax across the top to seal the edges.
Viola! You are a Jelly Maker!