You know what I realized this past week?
I. Love. Canning. No, really. Not just the “Yay, I get to pull homemade food out of the pantry in the winter” aspect, but I love the whole process– from sterilizing the jars to that satisfying sound of lids sealing at the end. It feels so empowering to be able to preserve wholesome food for later. But that could be because I’m kind of a food nerd…. Anyway. I was recently able to forage a lovely bucket of chokecherries from a relative’s backyard. And I just happened to be in the mood to put something in jars, so I decided to make chokecherry jelly. A chokecherry is a small cherry that often grows wild here in the West. They make wonderful syrup or jelly. Because they do have small pits in the middle, you’ll need to extract the juice. They are also fairly tart, so added sweetener is almost always required.
Chokecherries strike me as an old-fashioned food, sort of like Lamb’s Quarters. You’ll hear members of the older generation talk about them, but many ‘modern folk’ aren’t quite sure what they are. This article has tons of useful information about identification, harvesting, and even the history of chokecherries. Traditional chokecherry jelly recipes call for loads of sugar… Like I mentioned in my Raw Strawberry Freezer Jam post, the insane amounts of sweetener kept me from making jams and jellies for quite a while. However, using a special kind of pectin called Pomona’s will enable you to make your favorite recipes using less sugar than normal, or even honey. You can use either option in the recipe below- and you might want to adjust the sweetener to taste (I found that a full 2 cups of sugar was a little too sweet for me).
Chokecherry Jelly (with low-sugar and honey variations)
- 4 cups of chokecherry juice (I’ll tell you how to extract the juice below)
- 1/4 cup of lemon juice
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups of sugar OR 1 1/2 cups honey
- 4 teaspoons of Pomona’s Pectin
- 4 teaspoons of calcium water (this will come in your box of Pomona’s pectin)
**How to Make Chokecherry Juice**
(If you have a juicer, then definitely use that. I don’t, so I use the slightly more messy method…) After cleaning and washing your berries (try to remove as many of the little stems as possible, but don’t sweat it if you don’t get every single one) place them in a large pot and fill with enough water to just cover the fruit. Simmer for 15-30 minutes, or until the fruit softens. Then go after it with a potato masher to help mash the juice out. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined colander or jelly strainer. (A jelly strainer like this one is on my to-buy list very soon!)
Save back the juice and discard the pulp/pits. (I tried to give my chickens the pulp, but they weren’t interested…)
Thoroughly mix the sugar or honey in a separate bowl with the 4 teaspoons of pectin. Set aside. Bring the juice mixture to a boil, then add in the pectin/sugar mixture and mix until completely incorporated. Allow it to come back to a boil, then remove it from the heat and get ready to place it in your sterilized canning jars. Fill the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. (New to canning? I have a detailed tutorial from start to finish- complete with pics!) Boil in a hot-water bath canner for 10 minutes (add an extra 1 minute for every 1,000 feet you are above sea level).
- It took a while for my jars to cool down and start to jell. Several hours after they came out of the canner, they still looked pretty runny. But by the following day, most of the jars had firmed up to jelly consistency. A couple jars took even longer. But, even if they don’t jell up as much as you like, it still makes spectacular syrup!
- I’ve seen several sources say that over-mashing the berries while you are trying to extract juice makes the resulting jelly cloudy. And it does– but I do it anyway. Chokecherries don’t give extremely high yields to begin with, so I like to make sure I get every drop I can out of them. Cloudy jelly doesn’t bother me a bit.
- You can usually find Pomona’s Pectin at your local health food store. Or, Amazon always carries it. I also recently had a reader tell me that you can buy it from Azure Standard in bulk, so there is another option if you can’t find it locally.
- Check out my Six Tips for No-Stress Canning if the whole canning process sometimes leaves you feeling crazy.
- If you don’t have chokecherries, this recipe can easily be adapted for other types of berries as well. You will just need to adjust the sweetener accordingly.
- No need to use your expensive raw honey in this recipe since it will be cooked and you’ll loose all that benefical raw-ness anyway.
I think chokecherry jelly has to be one of my most favorite jellies of all time. I love the pleasant tartness and bright color it adds to your pancakes, waffles, or buttermilk biscuits… Now just to make sure that my precious little jars last until next season!
If you are a food preservation nerd like me, you might enjoy these other posts:
- Peach Pie Filling for the Freezer
- How to Freeze Eggs
- Home Canned Applesauce
- Raw Strawberry Freezer Jam- made with raw honey
If canning isn’t quite your style, you might like dehydrating instead. Delicious, Delectable, and Dehydrated is a book that will teach you all the ins and outs of preserving food via dehydration– and they just happen to be one of this month’s sponsors.
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