I woke up to gloom and drizzle this morning, a sight that would usually make me feel like ducking back underneath the covers to hibernate. (I can’t, of course, because the animals will be demanding their breakfast.) But today is different because a gloomy, drizzly day is perfect for staying indoors to make herbal jellies, and that’s exactly what I have planned: a long-overdue jelly day with my sunny friend and jelly buddy, Linda.
This has been our kids-are-back-to-school tradition for about four years now—gathering handfuls of fragrant herbs from my garden before they wither away and turning them into jewel-like jellies to share with family and friends, plus savor ourselves as sweet reminders of summer past. Linda, my jelly mentor, taught me the basics of water-bath canning, and I’m always a little in awe of her because she’s fiendishly creative, especially when it comes to jellies. While I’m apt to go tamely with our tried and true recipes using only a few ingredients—red wine and rosemary, for instance, or mint-apple—she’ll throw just about anything into a batch of jelly but the kitchen sink.
Photo by Cherie Langlois
My friend, Linda, is my jelly mentor.
Consider one of today’s concoctions, which Linda names Sangria Jelly: It contains orange, lemon and grapefruit juices; lemon balm and ginger; then, at the last minute, she tosses in a little red wine. There might be something else in the mix, too, but I can’t remember and, unfortunately, Linda and I are terribly lax about recording the ingredients we use when inventing a new jelly.
With a friend to help and provide laughs and inspiration, what could easily be slow jelly-making drudgery transforms into a speedily passing day of creative fun and camaraderie. (Linda’s joke of the day: “We both have degrees from University of Washington, which means we don’t make a lot of money. But, hey, we make a lot of jellies!”) Before we know it, we’re sitting down to sample a record seven delicious jellies on slices of baguette, from my beloved Chianti-Rosemary to Linda’s new Mint with Lemon Pepper and Allspice. I know—sounds kind of strange, but it’s good!
If you grow herbs but have never made jelly before, why not try it? I wrote a story on herbal jelly-making in the July/August 2010 Hobby Farm Home, called “Summer in a Jar,” and you’ll find jelly recipes and great canning advice in that canner’s bible, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.