Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Preserving Wild Harvests - Jelly and Jam

Roma food mill
Sometimes the abundance of a seasonal harvest of wild foods overwhelms us, and we are not able to eat all we gather at once. To preserve the harvest, we use several methods of keeping wild food to use at later dates. Preserving our wild harvests in jars can be accomplished in a sweet way, such as jam, jelly, and fruit in simple syrup. You'll need a few specialized items for processing and canning, like jars with proper lids and a funnel to fill the jars. I prefer my jams seed-free, so we purchased a food mill a few years ago that has a screen to remove even the seeds from a strawberry.  For canning, I just use a large stock pot to sterilize my jars in boiling water, and then to process them in the same simmering water on top of a rack so the filled jars don't rattle around.  I always use pectin when making my jellies and jams because we spend a lot of time finding, picking, cleaning, and processing wild fruits and foods, and I really want my jams to be successful  Doing a set-test by drizzling a bit of the jam or jelly onto a chilled plate and checking the "set" has saved me from some potential failures, since sometimes a longer boil than one minute is required to get my jam or jelly to set. I am able to find used jars and bands on Freecycle and at tag sales at great prices, and just have to purchase the sealing lids since they can only be used once. Jewel-toned jellies and sweet, pulpy jams make nice gifts, and I sometimes swap them at food swaps.

Jam and jellies are differentiated by the clarity of the product based on the amount of pulp used. Jam is usually cloudy and thick, filled with pulp and fruit skins for texture. Jelly tends to be clear, or colored but still translucent. Both can be used on sandwiches, stirred into breakfast oatmeal, as a layer in a yogurt parfait, or as a component in a dessert.

Wineberry jam

Wild blueberry jam on scones
Mulberry jam
Jams are made from the pureed pulp of fruit, either raw or cooked lightly to homogenize the puree. Fruit like grapes, beach plums and wild black cherries are obvious candidates for making jam, along with the plentiful berry harvests we are able to make in the summertime. We are lucky to live in southern New England, where we have hot, humid summers that are great for diverse berry harvests, even if some of those berries are invasive species. Mulberries are found in in three varieties, red (which usually ripens to black), black, and white mulberries (which will ripen to purple). We usually make jam from the red or black mulberries, since they taste better than the insipid and overly sweet white mulberries. Picking enough wild blueberries to make some jam takes a long time, since the wild berries are so much smaller than their cultivated cousins. Wineberries make a delicious, tart, deep ruby-red jam, and sometimes we are able to harvest them at the same time as the Himalayan blackberries to make a wineberry-blackberry blend. Autumn Olives can be made into either a thick, pulpy jam that tends to spoil easily, or a clear, tart jelly

Autumn olive jelly, not totally clear, but not pulpy
Commercial onion jam, wild ramps jam
We do make one savory jam from ramps. Years ago, I tasted a savory roasted garlic and onion jam made by Stonewall Kitchens. I wanted to re-create it using wild ramps bulbs in place of the onions. It goes really well with fatty, salty foods like brie cheese, roast beef, or bread and cornichons. This jam is one of the few recipes we are willing to dig ramps bulbs for, because digging the bulbs is unsustainable and kills the plant. We only dig what we need, and even then, no more than 10% of any patch.

Beautiful violet jelly
Delicate black locust jelly
Dandelion jelly
Japanese knotweed jelly
Many of the clear jellies we make are flower based. The flowers are gathered and have boiling water poured over them to make an infusion. The flowers are then removed by straining the infusion through a fine-meshed jelly bag to make a clear, fragrant liquid that becomes the base of the jelly. Some of our spring ephemeral flowers that make fragrant jellies are black locust and lilac, both of which are delicately colored and scented. Dandelion flowers are time intensive to clean, but make a jelly reminiscent of honey, floral and golden. Violet jelly is dramatically colored, but only lightly floral. Japanese knotweed shoots and Rugosa rosehips can be made into a pretty and distinct jellies using the same method of making an infusion and extracting the clear juice from the wild food.

Sometimes our variety list will include about 15 different types of jams and jellies. Robert put up a shelf in the pantry to hold just some of our inventory, sized perfectly to keep the 8 oz. jars. The abundance of wild fruit and berries that we find help us to keep our pantry fully stocked through the cold winters with tastes of summer.


Faustess said...

I tried making dandelion jelly this past spring and the infusion turned brown, rather than the sunny yellow color. I ended up not using it - did I take too long separating the yellow fluff from the green part of the flower or should I have added lemon juice to the infusion? Both? Looking forward to the spring again already. I know my grandmother used to make this (and dandelion wine), but I was too little at the time to remember ever having had it.

The 3 Foragers said...

Adding lemon juice will change the pH level of the jelly, making it more acidic and acts as a preservative as well. It will dramatically help with the color retention. Good luck trying again, I know separating the yellow bits is very time consuming.