Jelly so good you'll want to make it yourself

September 02, 1998|By Jane Snow | Jane Snow,knight ridder/tribune

This is a confession: I have never canned so much as a green bean in my life.

Never have I been tempted to stand over a steaming kettle in the dead of summer, wrestling hot peaches into glass jars. Not even the lure of uncapping homemade roasted tomato sauce in bitter January could tempt me to unravel the mysteries of canning tongs and pressure steamers.

But now I've been suckered in. I have canned.

The siren was an expensive jar of apple-thyme jelly a friend gave me as a present. The amber jelly shimmered seductively on thick slabs of cream-cheese-slathered toast. It added quick elegance to sauteed chicken breasts. I had to have more.

Herb jellies cost the earth in stores but can be made for pennies at home, so I succumbed.

It's amazing how easy it is to make jelly, although I still draw the line at using fresh fruit, which must be simmered, squeezed and strained. That's too much hot work in a summer kitchen. But jelly made with juice is a snap. Well, not quite. But it would have been if I had had the proper equipment.

Which brings us to canning tongs. Go out and buy them. They look like oversized eyelash curlers, with the business end perfectly suited to retrieving scalding-hot jars from boiling water. In a pinch, I found, it is possible to jury-rig a boiling water bath with a large kettle and an upside-down cake pan, but you may want to buy a real water-bath canner, too.

That's all the equipment you'll need to make eight gorgeous jars of shimmering apple-thyme jelly.

Before you begin, a note of caution: Do not listen to your grandmother when she pooh-poohs my canning method. In years past, nobody even considered processing jelly in a boiling water bath. The hot jelly was merely topped with melted wax, capped and stored in the pantry.

Scientists have since discovered that a few nasty bacteria may linger with this method of canning. Chances are your jelly will be safe to eat, but who wants to take a chance? Jelly requires just five minutes' processing to wipe out any bacteria.

Also for safety's sake, use commercial canning jars and lids. Pretty, faceted jelly jars in handy sizes are available at most supermarkets. The pectin called for in my recipe usually is shelved nearby.

Apple-Thyme Jelly

Makes eight 8-ounce jars

4 cups unsweetened apple juice

10 sprigs fresh thyme

5 cups sugar

3/4 ounces packet powdered fruit pectin

Bring apple juice and thyme to boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat, cover tightly and let steep for 3 hours, or until the juice is flavored with the thyme. Remove herbs and discard.

Sterilize eight jelly jars (8 ounces each) and lids.

Add pectin to the apple juice and bring to a hard, rolling boil, stirring constantly. Quickly add sugar and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and immediately skim off foam.

Quickly ladle into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe jar tops and threads clean. Place hot lids on jars and screw bands on firmly.

Process jelly in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes.

Pub Date: 9/02/98

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