Thrifty(ish) Lemon and Elderflower Jelly

I made my first batch of elderflower champagne a few weeks ago, the day the Olympic Torch came to town. I had big ideas about how much I was going to make and boiled up 16 litres of water! To cut a long story short, it was an epic fail on the domestic front and a lot of sugar went down the drain. On the plus side, I did think to keep the lemon ‘shells’ that were left when I’d squeezed out all the juice. I put them in the freezer. The following week, I added more lemons to my stash, as I made another batch of champagne (which is looking good) and some cordial.

In the back of my mind I was thinking that I’d seen a recipe for a fruity jam or jelly made from left overs of this kind. When making jams and jellies, you need fruit that contains plenty of pectin. Lemons, particularly the pith, have lots, and of course, they also have plenty of acid, another essential for a good jam.

With the elderflower season still in full swing and my cordial turning out successfully, I had a flash of inspiration. I could use the lemons to create an elderflower flavoured jelly. It is not a particularly fast thing to make but that suits me as I can do it in stages. Here is the recipe.

You will need…

25 to 30 Elderflower heads, ideally picked in warm sunshine (if you can remember what that is)

Approximately 1kg of lemon ‘shells’, i.e. cut in half and juice removed. I had 17 by the time I counted up.

2 Oranges

2 1/2 pints (1500ml) of boiling water

3 lb (1300g) of granulated sugar

A large preserving pan. Some people get away with using the largest pan they can find but it should be as deep as possible as boiling jam rises a lot.

A funnel for pouring the hot jelly.

What to do: Stage 1

Shake the elderflowers well to remove any insects

Put the lemons and elderflowers into a pan and cover with 2 1/2 pints (approximately 1500ml) of boiling water. If that is not enough water to cover your fruit, add more. It’s not too critical at this point.

Juice the oranges and add the juice and ‘shells’ to the pan.

Bring to the boil and simmer for about 2 hours or until the lemon and orange peel is soft.

Leave everything in the pan to cool and infuse. I did this over night.

What to do: Stage 2

Strain the liquid through a scalded jelly bag or muslin cloth to separate it from the fruit. It’s not too hard to set up a straining system by tying a muslin over a bowl, pan or bucket, see my picture here. If you want to save washing up, strain your liquid into your large jam pan.

You need to leave this for a couple of hours or again, you could leave it overnight. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to prod, poke or squeeze or your jelly will be cloudy. If you are not bothered about having cloudy jelly, by all means go ahead and extract every little drop of lemony goodness.

While the liquid is straining, check on your jam jar supply. You will need roughly six small or 4 large jam jars (I always sterilise more than I need, just to be on the safe side). Make sure they are well washed in hot soapy water and inspect inside the lids for signs of rust.

Place your jars, but not the lids, the right way up on a baking tray and put them in the oven. You don’t need to switch it on yet.

Measure out your sugar. The rough rule of thumb is a pound of sugar to a pint of liquid though I’ve got a feeling I used a bit more, hence the 3lb or 1300g in the recipe. You could put your sugar in an oven proof dish and put it in the oven with the jars. That way, when you come to add it to the boiling liquid it is already warm and should dissolve more easily. It is not essential to do this, I rarely do but if you want your jelly to be a lighter colour, it might help as you shouldn’t need to boil the sugar for as long.

What to do: Stage 3

When you are satisfied that no more juice is going to drip out, discard your pulpy fruit (or see below for variation) and measure how much liquid you have left. I had about 800ml.

Now dilute your liquid with boiling water until you have 1600 ml or approximately 2 1/2 pints. I actually added a slosh of elderflower cordial at this point as well.

Put the strained liquid into your large jam pan and begin to warm it.

While it is heating you can get on with some other jobs.

Turn on the oven to 100C (Gas 1/4 or 225F) to dry and sterilise the jam jars and perhaps warm the sugar.

Put a small plate into the fridge. This will be useful later when you are testing for setting point.

Put the jam jar lids into a small pan and cover them in boiling water to sterilise. Make sure they are turned upside down so that the inside of them gets filled with water.

When the liquid is beginning to bubble, add the sugar and stir gently until it is dissolved. Keep a careful eye on the heat and your mixture at this point or you could end up with a very burnt pan!

When the sugar is completely dissolved, you can turn up the heat and bring the liquid to a rolling boil. It should rise and froth and generally remind you of a witches cauldron. In theory, you should achieve setting point in about 10 to 15 minutes. I didn’t boil my liquid hard enough so it took much longer. In any case, be prepared for at least half an hour of boiling because this is another stage when you can’t take your eye off the ball.

To test to see if your jelly is going to set, use a spoon to drip a small amount onto your cold plate. Leave it for a minute and then gently push it with your finger. If it crinkles, your jelly is ready to put into jars. If not, boil it for another five minutes and check again.

If it is ready, skim off any bubbly scum with a slotted spoon and then slowly and carefully pour the hot jelly into the hot jars using a funnel. If you keep the jars on the oven tray you will catch any spills.

CAUTION!!! You need to be VERY CAREFUL at this point. The jelly is VERY hot and could stick to your skin causing serious burns if you spill it. If the worst happens run any burnt areas under cold water until they stop stinging.

Making sure you use tongs to remove the lids from the hot water and oven gloves to protect your hands, put the lids onto the jars and screw them on well. Alternatively, you can use cellophane lids and elastic bands. You will probably have to use the latter method if you want to enter your lovely jelly into any shows or competitions as I am planning to later in the year.

When your jars are cool, label them, making sure you put on the date you made your jam and a ‘best before’ date, 12 months in the future.

Enjoy your jelly…

My next plan involves gooseberries and elderflowers. Lets hope it stops raining for long enough for me to pick some.
Variation: Lemon Marmalade with Elderflower
I haven’t tried this but it should work in theory….
After you have strained the lemon and elderflowers, remove the lemon shells and slice them very thinly to create the kind of shred you find in marmalade. Add the shred to the boiling jelly once the sugar has dissolved and before you bring it to a rolling boil. When you have achieved setting point, let your marmalade cool for approximately ten minutes as this will help the shred to be more evenly distributed in the jar when you bottle it up.
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The Joy of……Elderflowers

I was introduced to the delights of elderflower by the Husband’s paternal Grandma. She used to make a slightly fizzy elderflower drink that I suppose was a version of the elderflower champagne that we have taken to making.  I’d like to tell you that I noted down her recipe and picked up her top tips but alas, I did not think that far ahead. The only thing I can remember her saying was that it was not a good idea to pick elderflowers from busy road sides. Bearing in mind where she lived, in deepest Westmorland, I’m surprised she could find a busy roadside.

The Husband and I only started brewing with elderflowers last year. Perhaps it was acquiring this book that did it?

We made two batches of elderflower champagne and it worked really well. We used the majority of it for a toast after we had all three children baptised. However, the trouble with (amateur) elderflower champagne is that it won’t keep indefinitely. We had to drink up the remainder fairly quickly. All ‘essence of elderflower’ was gone from the house before the summer holidays arrived.

This year, I have made elderflower cordial. I hope that doing this will give me a stock of summer flavours to last much longer.

If you’ve never had a go at making these drinks, I would highly recommend it. I think the cordial is the easiest and less likely to go wrong. You don’t even need to bottle it, you can keep it in the freezer. I haven’t tried this because I’ve got a bit of a thing for bottling. I imagine that you could freeze it in ice cube trays and then bag it up. When you want a drink, voila, just take a cube out of the freezer and add it to water, still or sparkling.

There are plenty of recipes around on the internet for example, here and here. The one I used is more like the former of these two. I’m going to try the River Cottage version next because I’m interested to see what the addition of orange juice does. If you do decide to make the champagne, consider bottling it in plastic pop bottles. Glass ones have been known to explode!

Although my cordial is bottled up and ready to drink, I have also got a batch of champagne maturing. Pop back in a couple of weeks to see if it has worked. It’s temperamental stuff, a bit like the British Summer it’s so evocative of.