Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Many years ago, when my parents came to live with us and we were just beginning to garden the tiny lot this funny little house is on, my mother wanted lilacs. She remembered the sweet fragrance and the elegant blossoms. She remembered the beauty of Spring lilacs. So, against advice from area gardeners, we planted 3 lilacs... and they have thrived! These shrubs burst forth with riotous blooms and perfume every Spring.
But their blooms are so short lived! A week, maybe a bit more, and the beauty and fragrance are gone until the following year. What's a farmgirl to do? What else? Google! I found an interesting recipe for Lilac Jelly, written, it seemed, from a poet's soul. Why not?
On the night before making the jelly, our daughter helped me pick the heavy blossoms from the lilacs. She and I sat and plucked each flower and bud gently from the bunches. This is sticky business, and fills the air with perfume! But also gently rhythmic and quietly simply work. We finally had a well-packed, 2-cup measure of lilacs. These were funneled into a large canning jar, around 1 split vanilla bean, and 2 1/2 cups boiling filtered water was poured over the lot.
We continued to pluck lilac flowers and buds to infuse the sugar that would be part of the jelly-making process. Using 3 cups of sugar, we layered sugar, then lilacs, then sugar, then lilacs, then sugar into a large bowl. The bowl was covered and put to bed for the night.
The next day, the lilac-infused sugar was shaken through a sieve into a large bowl. This takes a little time, and some sneaky blossoms make their way through the sieve, but these can be easily picked out. The recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar (4 if you like it especially sweet), so more plain sugar can be added to bring the fragrant sugar to that level, if needed.
The jar of lilac/vanilla bean water was strained through a cheesecloth-lined fine sieve into a clean jar. Oh, the smell was wondrous! What remained was a gorgeous lilac-pink liquid. About 2 1/4 cups is needed for the recipe.
Into a large pan went the strained lilac/vanilla bean liquid, the juice and grated zest of one lemon, and one box of powdered pectin (we used Sure-Jell Premium). The mixture was brought to a full rolling boil while stirring constantly, and turned this amazing bright pink color! Once boiling, we added the sugar all at once, and continued to stir until the sugar dissolved. We brought it back to a full rolling boil and boiled the mixture for 1 minute. The pot was removed from the heat, and the foam that had formed on the top was skimmed off.
We ladled the jelly-to-be into hot, sterilized 4-ounce canning jars, and then ran a chopstick around the inside of the jar to remove any air bubbles. Using a wet cloth, each rim was wiped clean. Lids were placed on the jars, and the bands were screwed on, just fingertip tight. (For the Weck jars, the rubber seal was added, then the glass lid, and then the metal clamps.) We processed the jars using the hot water bath method for 10 minutes, then removed the jars from the canner to a kitchen towel atop a cooling rack. After 24 hours, the seal was checked and the jars were admired...
I know that every time we open the pantry in the coming months, and we gaze upon the sweet golden pink of these jars, we will recall the beauty of the Spring lilac blossoms... and we will smile and sigh contentedly.
What interesting canning recipes have you found to extend the harvest?