The trees are groaning under the weight of fruit this year, leaving us with plenty to turn into a variety of delicious jams. And yet, while I’m a huge fan of a meaty, fruity jam sometimes I want something lighter, something more delicate, something a bit more unusual - and elderberry jelly fits that bill beautifully. It’s ultra-seasonal and I think it encompasses the autumnal smells and flavours better than just about any other fruit.
Collecting the elderberries is a lovely job too and an hour or so should leave you with a couple of buckets or trugs full, which will be more than enough to make half-a-dozen jars of jelly once you’ve stripped away the leaves and stalks.
1. Sterilize the jars. Place clean, empty jars on a baking sheet or roasting tin. Carefully place in a hot oven (130°C Oor 275°F) for twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, turn the oven off and leave them to cool.
2. Now strip the elderberries from their stalks. This is easily accomplished using a table fork, but it is still a long-winded job. You will also find yourself firing stray elderberries all over the place so I’d recommend either doing it in a room with an easily mopped floor where the juice won’t stain or outside where it won’t matter. Either way, don’t worry if you miss the odd bit of stalk as you’ll be straining the pulp later.
3. Pop the elderberries into a saucepan and add 100ml of water. Boil the elderberries until all the juice is released. It doesn’t hurt to mash the hot pulp gently with a potato masher too to help get the juices flowing but be careful not to splash yourself.
4. After ten minutes or so take it off the heat and leave it to cool for 15 minutes before straining the juice through a sieve or colander lined with a square of muslin; some older recipes call for it to be strained overnight but I’ve never found that’s necessary. Please don’t be tempted to squeeze the pulp to speed things up. If you do you’ll just end up with cloudy jelly!
5. Measure the elderberry juice and add the same amount of jam sugar. Elderberries don’t have pectin in them, so you need the jam sugar – which has pectin added - to get it to set. You’ll also need to add a tablespoon of lemon juice per half-litre of juice, which again is there to help the setting.
6. Now boil gently in a large saucepan stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Once it has you can turn the heat right up and boil the saucepan furiously for ten minutes. After ten minutes you can ladle it into sterilised jars and seal. You’ll know if you’ve got a good seal if the dimple on the lid inverts itself as the internal pressure reduces as it cools.
7. The set will be quite soft and will look quite liquid, even when it is at room temperature. This is quite normal; the jars can be stored at room temperature before they are opened but are best stored in the fridge before use when the contents will firm up into the most delicious and delicate fruit jelly you’ve ever had!
If you want to keep things more natural you could add a few quartered crab apples, which would add sufficient pectin to enable you to use normal granulated white sugar instead of jam sugar.
If you’d rather make a delicious elderberry cordial instead of jars of jelly, just add 750g of sugar per 1kg of juice. Simmer to dissolve the sugar, stirring all the time. Once it has dissolved, let it cool and bottle. It’ll keep in the fridge for about three months. Serve diluted with still or sparkling water, or top cold lager, bitter or cider with a dash for an autumnal twist to your evening drink!