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Gooseberry Jam with Elderflowers
The gooseberry is delightfully tart old-world fruit that is now widely naturalized in North America. It does not thrive in the South—I have met Southerners who have never heard of gooseberries—but it grows wild in the woods of the Midwest, often in great abundance.
Perhaps because of its extreme tartness, the gooseberry is not the world’s most popular berry and is seldom found fresh in stores, though many grocery stores sell the canned berries for making pies.
This is a berry for cooking—making pies, tarts, jellies, and jams—and is not much favored for eating fresh. But gooseberries are superlative for cooking, and many people feel that no pie is quite as good as gooseberry pie, and no other jam quite equals gooseberry jam. The Christmas feast must include at least one gooseberry pie.
The old-time herbals--my favorite of which is Maude Grieve's A Modern Herbal, praise elderflowers for both medicinal and culinary uses. Grieve tells us that elderflowers “impart a delicate muscat flavor” to gooseberry jam. She is not kidding! While gooseberry jam is one of the most delicious of jams on its own, the addition of elderflowers makes the flavor still better.
In most years, the elder is in bloom about the same time the gooseberries are ripe. If the elder is late in blooming, fresh gooseberries can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. In fact, many sources say that gooseberries should be stored in the refrigerator for about ten days after picking, so that they develop a delicate blush-pink coloring to make the resulting jam prettier.
This, however, is not always an option. Elderflowers, for this purpose at least, cannot be stored. Sometimes the berries are dead ripe and the elderflowers cannot be relied on to bloom for another ten days. Hence, gooseberry jam (and pie filling) is usually a light amber/olive green in color. If you are set on getting more of a pinkish hue, adding a few raspberries will work.
Many people are baffled about when to pick gooseberries, since they are picked green. The idea is to wait until the berries have reached their maximum size. Gooseberries are ready to pick as soon as you see that a few berries have turn red or over-ripe.
HOW TO MAKE GOOSEBERRY JAM WITH ELDERFLOWERS
2 cups fresh gooseberries (or a little more) washed, with stems and blossoms removed
2 cups sugar
2-3 tablespoons fresh-picked elderflowers
2 half-pint canning jars with lids and ring bands
A cookpot big enough to place the sealing jars in, and deep enough that you can enough water to cover the tops of the jars, so that the tops are one inch under water.
A small pan for sterilizing the canning jars' lids and ring bands
You can skip this if you plan on storing your finished jam in the refrigerator and using it up within a month or so. But if you want to store your finished jam in the pantry or give it as a gift, you’ll need two ½ pint canning jars with lids and ring bands.
Sterilize the jars in boiling water for ten minutes and leave in hot water till ready to use. Put the lids and ring bands in a pan of water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and hold at simmering until you’re ready to use them.
A little more than 2 cups gooseberries. The reason I say “two cups of gooseberries or a little more” is because it will take a little more than two cups of berries to result in enough jam to fill two ½ pint jars.
Collect the elderflowers just before you begin making the jam, so that they’re very fresh. Collect two large clusters of elderflowers, or three or four smaller clusters. Remove the individual flowers from the stems by rolling the flower clusters in your hands and set aside.
Put a glass plate in the freezer, for testing if the jam is ready. Put a folded tea towel on the countertop.
Put the gooseberries in a saucepan with the water still clinging to them and heat over medium heat until they become a little juicy.
You can add a splash or two of water if this isn’t working for you.
Add sugar. Stir it all up. Turn the heat to high and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Gooseberry jam requires no pectin to gel. Boil for about eight minutes, keeping an eye out to see if the jam is starting to “sheet from the spoon,” as the jelly-makers say. That is, if the liquid is starting to slide from the spoon in a sheet, rather than in droplets.
Test the jam’s doneness around six to eight minutes (time for setting up varies) by placing a drop of the jam on the cold plate from the freezer. Let it cool a few seconds and push at it with your finger. If the droplet wrinkles, the jam is done. Remove from heat.
Now stir in 2-3 tablespoons of loosely scooped up fresh elderflower blossoms.
Remove the hot canning jars from the hot-water bath, being careful to pour off any water that’s in them. Set the hot jars on a towel. (Contact with a cold surface may crack the jars.)
Give the jam another stir and pour into the jars. Fill to ½ inch of the top of the jar.
Remove lids and ring bands from the simmering pan and put these on the jars, closing tightly. In a few minutes you should hear a “pop”—the sound of the lid popping downward to vacuum-seal the jars.
Your jam is now vacuum-sealed in sterilized jars and lids and will keep almost indefinitely.
This is a delicious jam, and the calico effect of the elderflowers makes it a rather pretty one too.
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