This weekend I was over on the other side of the mountains and noticed the huckleberry stands were lining the highway. When I got back to the office this morning I received a call from a client wondering how to make chokecherry jam. That got me thinking that this would be a great subject for today’s extension minute.
Our area is fortunate to have several native berry’s available that can be easily made into jelly’s and preserved to be enjoyed in the long winter months.
The first step to making jelly from native fruit is to extract the juice. For chokecherries, cover the fruit with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and stir constantly for 15 minutes.
Strain contents through jelly bag or cheesecloth. The jelly will be clearer if you don’t squeeze the bag but that only affects appearance of jelly. You will yield about 1 cup of juice for every pound of chokecherries.
The next step is to turn the juice into jelly. Making jams and jellies successfully depends on having the right proportion of the main ingredients: fruit, acid, sugar and pectin, the gelling agent. Locate a recipe to follow and make sure to measure accurately to ensure success
Pectin is found naturally in fruits and is the ingredient, when combined with sugar that causes the fruit to gel. You can choose to not use commercial pectin if you include one quarter unripen fruit in your fruit mix. Since that it isn’t always convenient to control the ratio of your ripe and unripe fruit you can test your berries for pectin.
Pectin in fruit decreases as the fruit ripens. To test for pectin, you can use one of two methods:
Method one is to place 1 tablespoon of cooked, cooled fruit juice in a dish and add 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol in a closed container and shake. Do not taste this mixture as it’s poisonous! Fruit high in pectin will form a solid jelly-like mass that can be picked up with a fork. If the juice fails to gel or clumps into several small particles, there isn’t enough pectin for gel without commercial pectin. The second method is the cook test. Measure 1/3 cup of juice and ¼ cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring constantly until all the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil until it passes the sheeting test which I will discuss in just a minute. Pour the jelly into a clean small bowl and let cool. If the cooled mixture is jelly-like, your fruit juice will gel.
After you have extracted your juice and determine if you need to use commercial pectin or not find an appropriate recipe for your jelly and follow directions. The order in which the ingredients are combined depends on the form of pectin. Powdered pectin is mixed with unheated fruit juice. Liquid pectin is added to a boiling juice and sugar mixture.
There are three methods to test to see if the jelly is ready. There is the temperature test. Use a candy thermometer and the jelly is ready when the temperature of 214 degrees for our altitude in Toole County. You can also use the spoon method to test the jelly for doneness. Dip a cool metal spoon into the boiling jelly mixture and lift the spoon out of the steam so the syrup runs off the side. When the mixture first starts to boil the drops will be light and syrupy as the syrup continues to boil, the drops will become heavier and will drop off the spoon two at a time. When the two drops form together and sheet off the spoon the jellying point has been reached. The last method is the Freezer test. Pour a small amount of jelly on a plate and place in the freezer for a few minutes If the mixture gels it should be done.
Pour jelly into hot jars leaving ¼ inch head space. Wipe jar rims, apply the jar lids and rims and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes. A reminder that paraffin was is no longer recommended to seal jars because of food safety concerns.
If you would like recipes for native berry jelly or more information on hot water canning method visit the Master Gardener Booth at the Shelby Farmers market this Thursday. You may also contact your local extension office for recipes and resources.
Toole County Extension FCS Agent