Elderberry Jam Recipe
To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be picking Elderberries this year. Mainly because they took just so long to mature and also because I thought that when they did, there would probably only be enough for the birds. It was by chance that I walked past one of my trees a few days ago and was delighted to discover that its branches were weighed down by the juiciest fruits I’ve ever seen.
There were plenty enough for the birds so I took a couple of pounds of berries off the tree and set off home to make preserves. I’m completely out of Elderberry syrup but what I really wanted to make was an Elderberry jelly. It’s rich and fruity and so versatile in the kitchen – have it on toast, spread it on cakes, or serve it up alongside savoury winter comfort foods like cheese boards or Swedish Meatballs.
Elderberries grow all across the northern hemisphere from Europe, to Asia, to the Americas. There are a few varieties to look out for but the type that’s most common here in Britain is the European Elder, Sambucus nigra. They grow on shrub-like Elder trees and their fruit is formed from fragrant umbels of Elderflowers which flower in June. From those form clusters of green berries that gradually deepen to a purple-black and fill with an earthy, vitamin c packed juice. Please be aware that you should not eat the berries or juice raw though since it can cause belly aches. Cooking the berries makes them completely safe for consumption.
In North America you’ll have the European Elder to forage from but also the Blueberry Elder and American Elder. All are very similar though the Blueberry Elder has different leaves from the other two. Elderberries are easy to identify but always triple check that you’re picking the correct berry before eating it.
Elderberry Jam Recipe makes 2-3 225g (8oz) jars
This is more of a jelly recipe than jam but in Britain folks know ‘Jelly’ as ‘Jell-o’. In any case, what you’ll end up with is a dark yet clear preserve with rich fruity flavour. This recipe uses powdered Pectin to make the jelly set but if you’d like to use natural apple pectin, check out my other recipe here.
1kg (2lbs) Elderberries
3 cups Water
1kg (2lbs or 5 cups) white Sugar
Juice of half a Lemon
1 Sachet of Pectin (8 grams / 0.28 oz / approx. 1 Tablespoon)
1. Rinse the berries and then pluck the berries off the stems. The stems leave a bitter taste to your preserves so try to remove as many of them as possible but don’t stress out if you don’t get all of them. To get the berries off, you can use a fork to pull them off the stems but what I like to do now is gently roll and pull them off with my fingers. I place the entire cluster of berries in my hand and gently tug the berries off.
2. Place the berries into a large saucepan with the water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer then when the fruit is soft use a potato masher to squish the berries.
3. Set up your Jelly Strainer & Bag over a bowl and pour the berries and juice through it. Leave the berries to drip for at least a few hours if not overnight. You’ll notice in my photo that I’m using a jelly straining frame but a piece of muslin to strain my berries. If you don’t have access to a strainer set you could rig your own up like I’ve done.
4. Measure the juice you have after it’s been strained and compost the berry solids. For every 600ml (2-1/2 cups) of juice measure 450g (1-1/4 cups) of white granulated sugar.
5. Place your jars and lids into the oven and begin warming them on the lowest setting. If you pour hot jelly into cold or room temperature jars the glass might crack. Put a plate into the freezer to prepare for testing the jelly setting point (step 7).
6. Put the juice into a large saucepan heat it on high. As it begins warming up, slowly pour in the sugar, lemon juice, and Pectin and stir until dissolved. Now bring the juice to a rapid boil and leave it there until setting point is reached. This will take about 15-30 minutes of boiling.
7. Check to see that the setting point has been reached by dribbling a small amount of the juice onto the plate you’ve chilled in the freezer. Leave it for a minute and then push at it from the edge with your fingertip. If the jelly crinkles up, then setting point has been met and you can move on to step 8. If it just moves aside in a liquidy way and without any crinkling then continue boiling. Here’s a photo of redcurrant jelly crinkling up: