Recipe for a sweet soft-set jelly infused with Elderflowers & Vanilla
Usually Elderflowers bloom in early to mid-June and they’re a wild food that is relatively easy to spot and forage. This year they’re just now beginning to show so there’s ample opportunity for you to gather your own to make fragrant and delicious cordials, champagnes, desserts, and preserves.
Though I love these combinations, I often find that the fruit flavour takes centre stage and I wanted to instead create a preserve that had Elderflower at its heart. With the subtle aroma of vanilla bean, this recipe results in a jelly that is a perfect blend of sweetness and perfumed bouquet and is ideal for spreading on toast, muffins, pancakes, vanilla ice cream, or anything that takes your fancy. In fact it’s so good that you’ll probably be tempted to just eat it from the jar!
Elderflower & Vanilla Jelly Recipe
Makes approx. four 450ml Jars
10-12 Large Elderflower Umbels (approx. 135g of flowers once removed from the stalks)
1 Litre / 4 cups Boiling Water
1 Kg / 4 cups Jam Sugar*
1/4 cup Lemon Juice (juice of one large lemon)
1 Vanilla Bean Pod
1/4 tsp / 2g powdered Pectin**
Sauce or Preserving pan
Jelly bag or muslin or Jelly Strainer Stand with Bag
Sterilised Jelly Jars with Lids
* Jam sugar can be found in many grocery stores and it’s essentially just plain white sugar combined with a bit of citric acid and Pectin, a natural gelling agent. If you can’t find Jam Sugar for this recipe, you can use 4 cups of ordinary white sugar and 8g (approx. 1 tsp) of powdered Pectin. The extra 1/4 tsp of Pectin in this recipe is in addition to that amount.
** This amount will give a soft-medium set. For a firmer set, add 1/2 tsp powdered Pectin
1. Locate and pick your Elderflowers.
This time of year on the Isle of Man there seems to be at least two small trees flowering with umbels of white flowers: Rowan and Elderflower. Rowan isn’t poisonous but it doesn’t have the flavour and aroma that Elderflowers have so have a look at the image below to make sure that you have the right one. If you’re wondering about where to look, Elder trees can often be found along the edges of forested areas, fields, and hedgerows, and there are varieties that grow in the UK, Europe, and parts of North America.
2. Clean and pull the flowers
Leave the flowers outside for an hour or two after picking so that any tiny insects that may have been hiding inside have a chance to escape. If the flowers were collected in a bag or basket then it’s also a good idea to take them out and spread them around on a table or large plate to encourage those little guys to find a new home. I’m sure that neither you nor they want bugs in your jelly!
After you’re confident that most if not all of the insects are gone, pull all the tiny white blossoms off of the green stalks and place them in a large sauce pan. Some people use a fork to pull the flowers off but I just use my fingers since I find it easier and a good way to spot any remaining bugs. You also want to make sure to discard the thicker green stalks but don’t worry too much about the tiny ones that attach to the flowers.
3. Infuse the flowers
Pour one litre (4 cups) of boiling water over the flowers, cover the pan and then leave it to sit for a couple of hours. Once that time has passed, pour it through a jelly bag or muslin to separate the liquid from the flowers. While other jelly recipes will warn you against squeezing the bag, it’s perfectly okay to do it for this recipe. So go ahead and try to squeeze out every last drop of that delicious Elderflower infusion.
4. Infuse the Vanilla
Rinse the pan and then pour the Elderflower infusion back in. Now turn up the heat to medium and scrape the inner part of your vanilla bean into the liquid – throw the empty pod in for extra flavour. Put the lid back on the pot and simmer for five minutes before fishing the empty pod out. Have a look at your liquid to make sure there aren’t any bits of the pod floating inside but don’t strain the liquid since it would only remove all of those gorgeous little vanilla seeds.
5. Add the lemon juice & pectin
Now add your lemon juice to the infusion and bring it to a boil. Adding lemon juice will intensify the colour but more importantly it will enable your jelly to gel. Without a bit of acid, Pectin won’t be able to work its magic and you’ll be boiling for ages without coming even close to the setting point. If you’re wary of the lemon flavour affecting the jelly, don’t worry since you can’t really taste it.
Once the Elderflower-Vanilla-Lemon infusion comes to a boil, add your sugar and Pectin and stir until both are fully dissolved. Some fruits have natural Pectin that allow them to gel without adding anything extra but neither vanilla or Elderflowers bring it to this recipe. There’s some in the lemon juice but not enough to set the liquid into a jelly so you’ll need to use Jam Sugar and a little extra powdered Pectin to get a soft set. If you want a firmer set then you’ll need to add a bit extra Pectin (read the note at the bottom of the ingredients list).
6. Bring the jelly to its setting point
Keep your jelly mix at a rolling boil until it reaches the setting point. There are a couple of ways to determine this but the method I use is to place a small plate in the freezer for ten to fifteen minutes to get it really cold. Once I’ve boiled the mixture for about ten minutes I take the plate out and place a generous drop of jelly on the plate. Wait a minute until it’s cooled and then poke at it with your finger – if it’s gel-like and/or crinkles up you have setting point. If not, put the plate back in the freezer and test again after another five minutes. For this recipe I boiled the jelly for twenty minutes before it was ready but the time will vary based on your own stove, elevation, and other factors.
7. Pour the jelly into jars
Once you’ve established the setting point, take the pan off the hob and allow it to cool for a few minutes. This will allow a skin to form on the surface that can be easily pushed to the side, along with any foam, and then scooped out of the pan. After you’ve done that, pour the jelly into warm, sterilised jars and screw the lids on tight. Leave them to sit on the counter to cool and eventually they’ll all seal with a loud pop. If you don’t hear the pop then either refrigerate the jelly and try to use it within a couple weeks or process the jars in a hot water bath, taking the lids off first to make sure that the inner seal is in no way damaged.
I need to note that water bathing jams and jellies is not common in the UK and that traditionally they’ve just been sealed with wax paper circles on the jelly’s surface. In the USA water bathing/processing jams and jellies is the standard and considered a safer way to preserve high acid foods. Please look into this topic for yourself and choose whichever method that best suits you and your family.