Now for some tips.
Yes, you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear! That is to say if your sow's ear is the humble gooseberry, and your silk purse is Gooseberry and Elderflower Jelly. The poor old gooseberry is the ugly sister of the soft fruit garden...sour and hairy, but all she needs is a bit of sweetening and dressing up with a few wild flowers and hey presto, she can be all interesting and sophisticated and well worth spreading on your morning croissant. But seriously, if you have a glut of gooseberries and are interested in using elderflowers in your cooking, but are a bit timid, then try this jam, it's lovely! I'll give the recipe verbatim from The Scottish Women's Rural Institutes Cookery Book (their motto is "For Home and Country" ), but this is an old book and therefore vague about the techniques of jelly making, so I'll give you a few tips later on, if you fancy trying this but are a beginner. Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Jelly
Put green gooseberries in a preserving pan with just enough water to cover them and let them get very hot but not boiling. Strain next day and boil with 1 lb of sugar to 1 pint of juice and allow 4 heads or so of elder-flower to a pint of juice. Tie the bunch to the handle of the pan, and if the petals are inclined to come off, put the elder-flower in a muslin bag. Boil them all the time with the jelly for about 1 hour, then put into pots. It is best to taste the jelly while boiling, and remove elder-flowers if their flavour is considered strong enough.
- You don't need a jelly bag to strain the gooseberry liquid, just use a fine sieve.
- Sterilize your jars by washing them thoroughly in warm, soapy water and putting them in a hot oven for 10 minutes.
- Make sure that the jelly is poured into the jars whilst they are still hot, if the jars are cold they are liable to break.
- Don't boil the liquid straight away, simmer gently until all of the grains of sugar are dissolved, this stops the jelly from "splitting".
- Then boil vigorously for an hour...remember your pan will need to accommodate this, but you don't really need a preserving pan, I use a large stew pan.
- After an hour test for a set. Simply put a tea plate into the freezer for a minute. Then take the jelly off the heat, pour a spoonful of jelly onto the tea plate and put into the fridge for two minutes. If the jelly looks like jelly, and if you can run your finger through the middle of the jelly and the two sides not come together then you're ready to pot your jam. If the jelly is still quite liquid boil again to ten minutes and test for a set until you have one. Today it took me 1 hour and 30 minutes to make a well set jelly.
- A jam funnel is a great tool, but if you don't have one you can use a ladle, just be careful of your finger!
- Put lids on the jars when the jam is still hot, but handleable. If you use lids with a plastic inner coating then you don't need to faff around with wax discs!
- Wipe away any spills whilst the jam is warm, it's easier that way.
The resulting jelly is this lovely ruby colour and makes a nice gift if you're inclined to jazz up the jars a little. Oh, and I meant to say if you're interested in the Women's Institute tea tray cloth, it comes from a time when preserving gluts was a patriotic duty. In pre-war Britain we ate an awful lot of imported food (70% I think??), so when war broke out we had to change our ways or starve. Women preserved and canned like crazy, and the Women's Institute did it on a vast scale. I like to look at the names on the tray cloth and think about what it must have been like for the women who lived through those times...anyway, enough of my ponderings! Enjoy your jelly making!