Herb Jelly

A few weeks ago my mom, myself and a friend of ours went to an herb preservation workshop where we learned how to make herb vinegar as well as herb infused oils and jams and jellies. I have a jar of herb vinegar stewing away in the back of a cabinet, which I will blog about soon, but it’s so easy to do it’s almost pitiful. In the meantime, our friend Theresa took on the more complicated process of making herb jellies and at a dinner this past week she presented us each with a jar of basil and rosemary jelly. I was so excited to try this flavor combination with anything I could find: fruit, bread, meats, cheese, an old flip flop – whatever!
The whole thing was made even more appealing by just how adorable the jelly was to begin with:

Rosemary and Basil Jelly

So this morning for breakfast, I decided to try it with a slice of multi-grain bread and some fresh, local peaches I got from the farmers market this past week. I know, peaches with rosemary and basil may not be the first thing that comes to your mind, but it should be! This combo was amazing. The heartiness of the bread, the sweet but herbal flavors of the jam and the tart but subtly sweet peaches were perfection. It doesn’t look like much and I realize you can hardly see my bread for all the peach, but seriously – amazing.

Multi-grain bread with herb jelly and peaches.

If you are already making jams and jellies, then add this recipe to your repertoire:

Herb-Apple Jelly

  • 4-5 fresh basil sprigs
  • 1 fresh rosemary branch (not too large or flavor will overpower the jelly)
  • 3 cups unsweetened apple juice
  • 4 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 oz. liquid Pectin (1 pkg.)

Make this jelly with different fresh herb combinations, either basil with rosemary or
thyme with mint. It’s good on toast, and excellent on pork and chicken.

You will need 6 clean (8-oz.) jelly jars and two-part lids (seal and screw-on band). Fill a
large stockpot or canner with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Sterilize jars and
lids. Keep at a simmer while you prepare the jelly.

Tie basil and rosemary sprigs in cheese-cloth. Place in a 5-quart pot along with apple
juice and sugar. Bring to a full boil and continue boiling for 1 minute.

Add pectin, stir well, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove and discard cheesecloth with
herbs; skim foam if needed. (you may also add a teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming)

Pour hot jelly into sterilized jars. Wipe jar rim if necessary, press on lid, and screw on
band. (If there’s any extra jelly, you can enjoy it right away and it will last in your fridge
for a while.) Work quickly but carefully, as the jelly will be very hot. Place jars in
simmering water and raise heat to bring water to a boil. Boil jars for 5-10 minutes, then
remove and allow to cool to room temperature. Leave for 24 hours.

You should hear the jars pop shortly after removing them from the canner. This
indicates that it’s sealed. When cool, the lids should be smooth and flat. Store for up to
a year in a cool, dark area out of direct sunlight.

This recipe and the others we received in the workshop are courtesy of local personal chef and herb-master, Elizabeth Meska. 

 

I can’t wait to try this jelly with so many other things. Anybody have any suggestions?

Saucy

Remember how I mentioned that I’m not exactly into measuring and precision? Principles that are important in things like baking, rocket science and canning. Can something without following all the right steps and BAM, everyone has botulism. That is why when I want to preserve something, I usually freeze it. I wish I could can, I really do. But I know how that science experiment would end up and it is with a trip to the hospital.

So every year, near the end of the summer (*weep*) I freeze a big batch of tomato sauce that I make from local tomatoes. This year a large basket of tomatoes was donated to me via my great uncle and aunt, Joe and Carol, who are pretty amazing gardeners. Free food is the best food, just ask the freegans! (I’m kidding. That movement is gross. Talk about botulism. . .)

Making tomato sauce is kind of an ordeal, but worth it in the long run. I usually have to block out several hours of my day to get this done. This tomato sauce is a little looser than pasta sauce and can be used in place of canned tomato sauce. Basically, it can become the building blocks of spaghetti, marinara, pizza sauce, tomato soups – whatever you want.

So let’s get started. First, you wash and dry your tomatoes. I was working with 3 1/2 lbs here. I usually do a batch twice this large, but this is what I had to work with in this case. On the bottom of each tomato, cut a small ‘x’ with a paring knife.

cut a small ‘x’ into the bottom of each tomato

Then get a large pot of boiling water going. You are going to blanch the tomatoes, which means they will bathe in boiling water for just 2 minutes or so, until you start to see the skin around the X peel back. When you see that start to happen, get the tomatoes out of the water with a slotted spoon and deposit into a colander where they can drain and cool. There is a serious system to this and you need to get your “mise en place!” (A fancy French term meaning ‘get your $h*t together before you start working’)

Mise en place!!

 

blanch and peel the tomatoes

Once you’ve done this in small batches to all of your tomatoes (don’t put more than 4 or 5 small tomatoes into your water at once), and once they’ve cooled to the touch, peel the tomatoes starting at the X in the bottom, pulling the skin away up to the top. Do this to all of your tomatoes. Once they are all peeled, start chopping and you’ll want to remove the hard area of the tomato where the stem was. Everything else gets chopped and thrown into your pot.

dump chopped tomatoes into your pot

Then you add your other ingredients (these measurements are based on using 3 1/2lbs of tomatoes):

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 3/4 tbs black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tbs minced onion
  • 1/2 tbs dried oregano
  • 1/2 tbs garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • a few dashes of crushed red pepper flakes

You can use fresh herbs rather than dried herbs, but you don’t need too much. Remember, this is tomato sauce – a base, not your finished product that goes on your spaghetti. Also, if you don’t care for spice AT ALL, omit the chili powder and red pepper, but those two ingredients don’t really make this that spicy, so if you’re OK with a little spice, no worries.

Then the fun part. You probably don’t want your tomato sauce this chunky. If you do, awesome, move on to the next step, but if you’re like most people, you want a smooth sauce and you can accomplish this one of two ways: with a stick blender right in the pot, or with a regular blender in batches. I use a stick blender, because I feel bad ass when I open this thing up.

The 007 theme music starts playing

Seriously, it looks like a weapon custom designed for James Bond. But if you don’t have one of these, then just use your standard blender, blending in batches and returning the mixture to your pot. Do this before the sauce gets hot so nobody gets hurt.

After it’s been blended, simmer your sauce for at least an hour, or longer. It should look something like this:

droooool

If you’re using it right away, then do whatever you need to do, but if you’re freezing it, let it cool, off the heat for 15 minutes or so. Then dole out 1 cup portions into tupperware containers that are freezer-safe. Make sure you leave enough head room in each container – this stuff will expand, according to the laws of science. I buy tupperwares that have measurements right on the side of the container so I don’t actually have to measure, because we all know how I feel about that. I just ladle it in until it hits the mark.

Ready to chill out

Stash them in your freezer and pull them out whenever needed. To thaw, either put in the fridge overnight or let them float around in some cool water in the sink for an hour or so. Or if you’re super impatient like me, just dump the frozen sauce right into your pan and heat it up until it’s thawed. Look guys, I just need my tomato sauce RIGHT NOW.

You may be thinking that this is a lot of work, and so be it. It is. But the taste is amazing, you’re preserving a little piece of summer and perhaps you are not aware of the health implications of most canned food? Did you know that Bisphenol A (BPA) is widely used as a lining for cans holding canned food? BPA is thought to be harmful because it mimics human hormones and has been classified as an endocrine disruptor. BPA has been associated with a variety of health problems in laboratory animals, including cancers, early puberty, and developmental problems. Canned products are also laden with sodium (hello high blood pressure, blood clots, heart disease, etc etc etc) and other preservation chemicals. So avoiding canned products could be a life saver. There are a few small organic companies making canned beans and some veggies that are in BPA-free cans, but they are difficult to find and can be expensive. In the meantime, spend a little extra time to know and make what you’re eating. And if you’re NOT like me, and you are capable of following intense directions, start thinking about canning – which of course, is actually “jarring” and so avoids the BPA, sodium and chemicals in store-bought products. The Ball Jar website has great recipes and tutorials on how to do this. If I can ever get my brain to function on a linear plane, I may just try it myself.