Elderberry jelly recipe with elderberries, lemon juice, sugar, and pectin. Makes an excellent preserve that can be served in both sweet and savory dishes
This time of the year, hedgerows are beginning to fill with autumn bounty. Rose-hips, crab apples, mushrooms, blackberries, and one of my favourites — elderberries. Rich in vitamin C and sweet flavor, you can use them to make all sorts of delicious preserves. One of the easiest and most versatile is this simple elderberry jelly recipe. Spread it on toast, serve with a cheeseboard, or dollop it on savory dishes like Swedish meatballs.
The flavor of elderberries is rich and juicy but has an earthy-wildness to it that’s hard to place. Trust me when I say that it’s delicious and well-worth an autumn tromp to find them. For this recipe, you only need a handful of ingredients, basic kitchen equipment, and a few jars. Feel free to double or triple the recipe for even more jars of dark jewel-like preserves.
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 is the European elder, Sambucus nigra. They grow as shrub-like trees and their fruit is formed from fragrant umbels of elderflowers that flower in June. The elderflowers gradually form clusters of green berries that deepen to a purple-black and fill with a rich purple juice.
You shouldn’t eat elderberries or elderberry juice raw since it can cause belly aches. Cooking the berries makes them safe.
In North America, you’ll have the European elder to forage from but also the blueberry elder and American elder. All are very similar, although 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.
Be responsible, respectful, and sensible when foraging for wild food. If it’s on private land, ask permission, and never take more than your fair share. Also remember, that as developments encroach on the wild, many plants and animals are becoming threatened. Even foragers are contributing to their demise.
There are a lot of easy to identify wild foods in autumn, but if you find a tree laden with berries or nuts, remember that animals rely on them to survive. My personal rule is to only take a maximum of ten-percent when foraging. For fruit and berries that I grow in the garden, I leave at least ten percent for the birds. That way you’re happy and the local birds, hedgehogs, mammals, and eco-system are happy too.
Elderberry Jelly Recipe
- 2.2 lbs Elderberries 1 kg
- 3 cups Water
- 2.2 lbs White granulated sugar 1 kg / 5 cups. If available, purchase 'Jam Sugar'
- 1/2 Lemon Juice of
- 1 Tbsp Pectin 8g / 0.28oz / approx 1 Sachet. If using 'Jam Sugar' you won't need this extra pectin.
- Clean and sterilize your preserving jars. Run them through the dishwasher or place them in the oven at 270°F (130°C) for 20 minutes and then let them cool. Inspect them for any cracks or imperfections and discard any that aren't perfect. The lids can go in the dishwasher too or you can pour scalding water over them and leave them in it for five minutes before repeating. Allow them to fully air-dry before you use them to seal your jars.
- Put a plate in the freezer in preparation for testing the setting point.
- 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.
- 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.
- Set up your jelly strainer 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.
- 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.
- Warm your jars. This is especially important if you use recycled glass jars to make preserves in. That's because the thin glass can crack when hot contents are poured inside. Place your jars and lids into the oven and begin warming them on the lowest setting.
- 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 the setting point is reached. This will take about 15-30 minutes of boiling.
- 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 the 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.
- Turn the heat off and let the pan sit for a couple of minutes until a skin forms on the surface of the jelly. Skim this off with a spoon and discard then pour the jelly into the warm jars using a jam funnel. Fill to within a quarter-inch of the rim and twist on the lids or lids and rings.
- Water-bath the jars to ensure that they're fully sterilized*. Fill a tall pan with water and place either a rack at the bottom. Bring to a boil then lower your jars in so that they're not touching and that there's at least an inch of water above. Bring back to a rolling boil and leave the jars in the boiling water for five minutes. Lift them out vertically (not tilted) with a jar lifter and set them on the counter to cool. The lids will seal as the jelly cools – you’ll hear a pop as the seal closes. It may take twelve or more hours for the seal to take.
- Store the jam for up to a year in a cool cupboard. Once open, refrigerate, and use within six months.
- In Britain, it's not common for people to water-bath high-acid preserves like this elderberry jelly. That's because there's been no national body that gives advice on such matters since WWII. The information that people use to preserve food in the UK is very much outdated and leads to a lot of spoilage. You can read more on the topic here.
More Autumn Foraging Ideas
If you have enough elderberries, you can make delicious elderberry syrup with them and many other recipes. Cake, ice cream, pies, and even homemade elderberry wine! There are plenty of other wild foods to forage at the end of summer and into autumn too. Check out these ideas for more delicious foraged food to bring home for the table.
- Simple blackberry gin recipe
- Picking rose-hips for tea
- Foraging for porcini mushrooms
- Easy-to-identify wild foods