Year’s ago, I was discussing jelly making and canning with an elderly woman in Northwest Alabama. When I told her that blackberry jelly was my absolute favorite, she informed me that it was only my favorite because I had never had Elderberry Jelly. I didn’t know it until years later, but that woman was right.
Only recently have I found good reason to start foraging and cooking elderberries (Sambucus). I have two kids currently in pre-school, a.k.a. the germ-filled land of tiny crazies, so I am very interested in foods and natural immune boosters that can help keep them healthy. Elderberries are known to have anti-viral properties that help prevent and fight influenza. That is why I have learned how to identify and locate this powerful natural medicine.
For more information on Elderberry identification the following links may be helpful.
This year I was determined to can as much Elderberry as I could find. I started spotting local road-side patches of the berries long before they were fruiting, by keeping an eye out for the easily recognizable white flowers in early Summer. By the time the berries were ripe, I knew exactly where to go to pick them, and quickly picked enough for my first batch of elderberry jelly.
As usual for my first attempts at cooking things, I thoroughly researched all of the related recipes on the internet. Probably half of the articles I read were people sharing their frustrations because their elderberry jelly did not set correctly. Since these tiny fruits are notorious for not setting up properly in jelly, I decided to add some apple juice and plenty of lemon juice.
I figured if I added fruit juice high in pectin and added lemon juice the jelly would have to set correctly. After processing, I was so incredibly frustrated when I discovered that my additions didn’t do the trick. I checked my jars after 24 hours and I had Elderberry Syrup, not jelly. I put the jars in the fridge in hopes that they might still set. After 7 days they were still more of a syrup than a jelly. My brilliant Mom plans of filling my kid’s lunch boxes with PB & elderberry jelly sandwiches were ruined. I decided to just accept the syrup as a decent addition to our pantry and I figured we would eat it on pancakes. I labeled the tops of the jars “Elderberry Syrup” and put it away.
I had more berries left-over that I had planned on intentionally making syrup with, and I had a pile of pears. So, I made Pear Elderberry Jam instead. I’m glad I did make the jam because it turned out great, and it made for really pretty blog post.
Fast forward to Fair Season. Last week I pulled the prettiest of each of our home-canned goods out of the pantry and hauled them to the county fair. There is actually a category in the canned foods division at our fair for “fruit syrups.” I imagine 90% of the entries in this category are in fact failed jellies or the delicious by-product of old fashioned preserves. I decided to pull a jar of my “Elderberry Syrup” to throw in with the competition. But, to my surprise, I did not have syrup anymore. I had beautifully set Elderberry Jelly!
I am not a food scientist and will never pretend to be. I have absolutely no idea how jelly can take more than 7 days to set. Maybe the pectin in Elderberries needs to mingle with the sugar and lemon juice for a week before it decides it wants to form a union? Whatever the case may be, I eventually ended up with jelly. I have had blackberry jelly take 3 days to fully set. But, over 7 days for jelly to set? It was a first for me.
I am a member of several canning and homesteading groups online and have seen plenty of post from people upset that their jellies failed to set. Some people accept the defeat with grace and choose to enjoy their fruit syrup. Others pitch fits and throw away their runny jelly. Still others take it out of the jar and try again to get it to set with a new box of pectin. From now on, I will comment on these type posts and tell them to wait a week before judging the jell, especially if it is made with elderberries.
Elderberry season is coming to an end in my area. But, I’m sure plenty of my followers up North are still picking these tiny super-fruits. So, I’ve decided to go ahead and share the recipe that I used. It might be slow to set, but it’s worth the wait. This is fabulous jelly.
Yields 2&1/2 pints
- Enough Elderberries to make 3 cups of juice, between 6-8 cups of whole berries depending on the variety.
- 1 box Sure Jell powdered pectin or to be safe with these finicky fruits use 1 & 1/4 boxes. Next time I will be adding the extra bit.
- 1/4 cup Lemon juice
- 1/2 cup Apple juice
- Prepare Elderberries by pulling them from the stems(easily done with a fork), and rinsing them. Try to remove all green berries or small pieces of stems that come off with the ripe berries. The stems and green berries contain toxins. Raw elderberries should not be consumed, so don’t be tempted to try them.
- Put apple juice and berries in a large stock pot. Lightly crush berries and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Strain through a cheese-cloth lined colander or tie fruit in a jelly bag made from a flour sack towel. I use flour sack towels because it produces a clearer jelly. Cloudy jelly taste just as good, but it doesn’t win blue ribbons.
- Let juices drip through for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight.
- Measure juice. If you do not have enough, add more apple juice.
- Sterilize canning jars and have them resting in a hot water bath canner.
- In a large non-reactive stock pot combine powdered SureJell powdered pectin with the elderberry/apple juice and bring to a full rolling boil over high heat.
- Add lemon juice and sugar to the boiling juices. Bring back to a full rolling boil (one that can’t be stirred down). Boil for exactly 1 minute then remove from heat.
- Ladle into hot sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ head space.
- Wipe the rim of the jars and apply 2 piece canning lids.
- Process in water bath canner for 5 minutes. Additional processing time may be needed at higher elevations. Please refer to the National Center for Home Foods Preservation for recommended time adjustments.
- Remove jars from canner and rest them on a towel covered countertop, undisturbed for 24 hours. If you have syrup instead of jelly, place the jars in the refrigerator for a week. If after a week the jelly still hasn’t set, throw the jars in the pantry and check them in a month.