This is the first year my dad was able beat the deer and birds to his wild plums and what a treat they were! After eating my fill, I decided that some wild plum jelly would be a good way to use up the rest of the fruit.
My grandmother taught me how to make jelly when I was little. At her house, summertime meant gardening and canning and never wasting any fruit or vegetable along the way. She had such a tiny kitchen, and I was probably more in the way rather than helping, but she always made me feel like she couldn’t have made it without me and it was the best jelly ever because I had helped.
Making jelly is not hard, but you do need some basic equipment to get started. Most of the equipment I have I got from her. One of my favorite’s is a metal colander (?) juicer (?) with a wooden masher.
As you can tell from the stained masher, it’s been used once or twice before.
Another piece of equipment I use are her scales to weigh the fruit.
A water bath canner is used for jelly as well as high acid foods like tomatoes. I originally had hers but it was pretty well-worn when I got it and eventually rusted out on the bottom. It became a flower pot and I bought this one.
Water bath canners have grooves on the bottom
and jar racks to keep jars from sitting flat on the bottom of the cooker.
This is an important feature and allows the boiling water to circulate under the jars. The handles on the jar rack however are basically useless, to me, as they are too flimsy to pull full, hot jars completely out of the pot without them toppling everywhere. I use jar grippers instead.
You will also need canning jars and lids, a canning funnel, sugar, pectin (or Sure Jell) and a variety of bowls and towels because making jelly can be a little messy (or a lot messy if you’re like me)
Wash the jars in the dishwasher. I usually do this about an hour before I start making jelly or canning anything. You want your jars hot when you put your jelly in and the dry cycle of the dishwasher works great. But, since I started my jelly on the spur of the moment, I just put some clean jars in a pan of water and warmed them up.
Canning jars come in wide mouth and regular mouth sizes. Wash whichever lids (the flat top) and caps (screws on top of lid) you need. My recipe says it makes 8 half pints but I always have a couple extra jars and tops standing by just in case. Place in a small pot and heat. Everything needs to be kept warm. Putting hot jelly in a cool jar can cause the jar to break.
Here’s a handy way to get your lids and caps out of the hot water. It’s magnetic so I don’t have to use a fork like I used to. Brilliant.
Place your water bath canner on the back burner and begin heating the water. You will need the water to be to the boiling stage by the time the jelly is ready to be put in.
For wild plum jelly, you will need five pounds of plums
(I had seven pounds of fruit, so I put aside two pounds to make some freezer jam later.)
In a stockpot, squeeze out the pulp and remove the seed. The skin of the plum is also chock full of flavor, so I also put that in my pot as well. This is the messy part and takes some time. Someone told me (after I was done of course) that if you freeze the plums overnight the pulp of the fruit is not quite so mushy and the seeds will pop right out therefore eliminating the messy part.
Add four cups of water to the stockpot and simmer for about thirty minutes.
As this is simmering, find a big bowl and, if you don’t have a colander/strainer/juicer thingy like mine, line a good size strainer with cheesecloth and place on top of the bowl.
In my case, I used a measuring bowl underneath my contraption.
Use the masher to gently press the fruit through the strainer
Let stand for thirty minutes or until you get 5 1/2 cups of juice.
Return juice to the stockpot. Add one package (1-3/4 oz) of powdered fruit pectin (SureJell). Stir and bring to a boil. Add 7-1/2 cups of sugar. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for one minute stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. There will be a thin layer of foam on top. Using a spoon, skim off foam.
Next we put the jelly to the jar!
My grandmother always used a coffee cup to dip the jelly into the jars. You can use a ladle or measuring cup, but I prefer the coffee cup method.
I do this next step one jar at a time so I can keep my jars hot ’til the last minute.
Place a canning funnel (yes this is hers) on top of the jar and ladle in the jelly.
Wipe the rim of the jar with a wet paper towel or dishcloth.
Don’t forget this step. It is vital to getting a good seal.
Top with a lid
and screw on the cap.
Using a jar gripper, place the jars in a boiling water bath. The water should cover the jars by about an inch. (If it doesn’t, add boiling water until it’s does)
Process (or boil) for 5 minutes.
When the time is up, use your jar grippers again and remove the jelly. Set on a couple of dish towels. You will begin to hear popping sounds (hopefully). This means the jar is sealed.
Let set for twenty-four hours before moving.
Then make some biscuits and serve.
Mmm, mmm good!