Even though I picked the chokecherries in late July, I just got around to making the jelly this past weekend. The nice thing about making jelly, as opposed to jam or preserves, is that you just need the juice & the juice is easier to store than fruit. Within a few days of picking the chokecherries, I make the juice with the intention of freezing it & making jelly later. In my other post Chokecherry Madness, I posted a link to food.com’s search of chokecherry recipes.
I picked about 4 pounds of cherries all together. When I decided to seriously get into canning this summer, I bought a bunch of supplies so I could be prepared. One of the things I bought was a digital scale. It was relatively cheap, under $20, but it was a great investment. Most of the recipes I’ve found, especially in the Ball Blue Book (which I absolutely love & reference constantly) call for ingredients by weight. So having a scale has turned out to be a lot more important that I expected. Another thing I like about the digital scale I have is that you can tare it to include a container or plate. I’ll put the colander or bowl on the scale, tare it, then start loading it up. It’s very easy. I’ve learned canning includes insane amounts of calculations, number of jars needed, figuring time to correct altitude, pounds of food per jar, dividing pints to half pints or quarts to pints, etc. Anything that cuts out more math makes it easier for me & most importantly takes out the possibility of a mental math error. Anyways . . back from my “make sure you buy a scale speech” I ended up with about 4 pounds of fruit. I split it in half to process in the juice in 2 batches. I don’t think it really matters exactly how much water you put in with the fruit, I read to make sure it’s “fully submerged.” I boiled the juice for a good hour. It had a really interesting smell. As it cooked I got some ideas to flavor it. I thought it smelled a little citrusy so I added some lemon thyme to the pot. I love lemon thyme, I love regular thyme, so I put some of that in there too. I pulled it off when the liquid was reduced to about half of what it was. The remaining liquid was a crazy bright pink, purple, red color. It was cloudy too, not clear like store bought juice. I strained everything through cheesecloth, letting it sit over the pot & drain for a good half hour. Once it stopped dripping, I kind of smashed it down to mash the fruit & to squeeze any remaining liquid out of the mush. I got 2 cups of juice for the first batch & 3 for the second, so all together a little over 5 cups. I split the liquid into these Ball plastic freezer containers (I LOVE these things, anything liquid I freeze I put in these containers, they are wonderful & stuff keeps so much better in them instead of glass jars or other plastic ones) & stuck them in the freezer. Another thing I like about those plastic containers is that they stack, the lids have a that the bottoms click into so they don’t slip off each other or fall over. I kept the juice frozen for a little over a month. I defrosted the juice in a stock pot. I bought a jar of Ball regular pectin. Since chokecherry jelly isn’t in the Ball Blue Book I didn’t know what proportions to use. The label of the pectin directed me to their website where they have a Pectin Calculator. It’s a great tool to use, you select the fruit, select jam or jelly, select the type of pectin you have & it gives you the amounts of juice/fruit, sugar & pectin to use depending on how many jars you need or how much fruit you have. It’s a great site, I will definitely reference it in the future! I had some pretty thick juice once it melted so I added a little extra water to it. The first batch I made was for 6 pint-sized jelly jars. I used 4 1/2 cups of juice. I had a little under 3 cups of juice left so I added enough water to make 4 more jars with 3 1/3 cups of the remaining juice. All together I ended up with 10 jars of processed chokecherry jelly with a little bit leftover that I stuck in a jar to eat right away. It tastes delicious!
I definitely like the added lemon thyme. I didn’t want to add too much flavor because I’ve never had chokecherry jelly before & wanted to know what it tasted like before adding spices. I really like it & I love the fact that there are so many chokecherry plants here in Denver I can pick as much as I want! Next summer I will be making more jelly but I’d like to try some new flavors as well. I’d like to try a more lemony version, maybe using lemon verbena, lemon basil, lemon thyme & regular thyme. I’d also like to try a version that would taste like my favorite roasted cranberry sauce (I make it every year at Thanksgiving). For that one I’d add lemon juice, use brown sugar instead of white, use rosemary, sage & thyme. I may or may not roast the fruit before, the cranberry sauce recipe calls for roasting the cranberries & creating a lumpy mess instead of smashing them or using a food mill. It also uses red wine to create the sauce & I wonder if I could add some wine or wine vinegar to the jelly. I’ll have to think about that one!