A TRIP to the beach, perhaps a trifle optimistic in September, was a disappointment. The compensation came with the discovery of several trees dripping tiny golden mirabelle plums in thick clusters, which you could pull off in handfuls. Lovely to eat raw, they do have the drawback of being quite sour, and tiny. The answer is Mirabelle, damson, and crabapple jelly.
You need a large and heavy-bottomed saucepan, or better still, a traditional preserving-pan. You also need some glass jars. Certain fruits, such as blackberries, will need a little extra help in the way of pectin to help them set. You can either buy pectin in jars, or add lemon juice or apples, which are rich in pectin.
First, decide where you are going to suspend your jelly bag. It is no good wandering around the kitchen with a scalding hot, dripping jelly bag in one hand and a bowl in the other, looking vaguely for a hook.
Cut up large apples, but, with smaller fruits such as plums or damsons, simply wash them and toss them in a pan with just enough water to cover them. Make several batches if your pan is not going to allow you to boil them all at once: the fruit will foam high in the pan.
When the fruit is tender, take a large piece of muslin, or a bought jelly bag, wet it and wring it out, spread it in a large bowl or pan, pour in the fruit, gather up the sides and corners, tie it up loosely, and let it drip. I find that most of the liquid has appeared after an hour or so.
Measure out your liquid, and decide if you need to add pectin or lemon juice to get the set. For each pint of liquid, you will need 450g (1 lb) granulated sugar. Add this to your pan, and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. When you are sure, turn up the heat and bring it to a “rolling boil”.
Depending on the fruit, you may get a “set” in about ten minutes. Keep testing so that you do not over-boil your jelly. Drop a teaspoonful on to a dry plate, and let it cool for a minute. Then push it gently with your finger. If it wrinkles on the surface, it’s done. If not, keep boiling.
While this is happening, put your jars into the oven on an oven tray, with their lids, if they are metal, and set the oven for about 100°C/225°F/ Mark ¼. As soon as the jelly is ready, and the jars are warmed and sterilised, turn off the heat. As the bubbles subside, you will see that there is a “scum” on the surface. The easiest way to remove it is by ladling it through a sieve back into the pot. Then ladle the cleared jelly into the warm jars, filling them right up to the neck, so as to exclude as much air as possible. (You can buy little waxed discs to float on top and create an invisible but effective seal to stop mould growing.) Put on the lids as soon as possible, wipe well, and label.
If you have sterilised the jars and lids, and seal your jellies quickly, they should keep their flavour and stay mould-free for up to a year, but the flavour will deteriorate over time; so don’t hoard them: swap them with friends, offer them at harvest-festival time, enter them at your village show, enjoy them on toast in the mornings, on crumpets at teatime, or slightly warmed as an instant sauce for ice-cream.