HOW TO :: Dandelion Jelly + Pectin

I just received this email from a past student (I taught preserving at Bastyr University last fall) and thought it was a great learning opportunity for anyone interested in home preserving, particulary jams and jellies in this case. dandelion crackerRachel writes:

Remember how I said you changed my life by introducing me to the fact that I don't need to buy pectin? Weeell, I have this recipe for Dandelion Jelly that asks for no sugar needed pectin (yet later calls for sugar in the recipe) here. My question is, can I make my own pectin in lieu of the no sugar needed? Does it really serve any sort of purpose in this recipe?

This Dandelion Jelly recipe is made from steeping dandys in water, flavoring with lemon juice & rind, pectin and sugar. Here is what everyone needs to remember: ALL jams and jellies need pectin in order to set. Some fruits are heavy with natural pectin (apples, lemons) and do not need any help from added pectin to set. Other fruits that are low in pectin (blueberries, cherries) will need some pectin added. You can add pectin by using a pectin product (whether or not the label says it requires sugar) or by using natural pectin - the rind of a lemon, core of an apple or homemade green apple jelly.

To answer Rachel's specific question, yes, you need sugar. You need some sort of sweetener for two reasons.

1 - If you didn't have sugar in the recipe, you would have dandelion infused lemon water. Not yummy.

2 - Sugar and pectin work together. (We talked about this in class, remember?!) Sugar helps to attract water away from pectin, allowing the pectin molecules to create network of 'links' that hold the jam/jelly together. This pectin linkage is what give jellies their body.

So, if you removed the sugar, the pectin would have a hard time bonding. AND if you removed the sugar, the jam wouldn't taste good. If it were me, I'd use homemade apple jelly pectin, not a powdered product from the store. My final thoughts on the matter are left from my friend and uber-smart forager, Langdon Cook. Lang made Dandy Jelly last year and his post sums up all the potential mishaps and shows what the actual product will look like on his blog, Fat of The Land. I also like the sound of this recipe better - the proportions are more balanced.

Chamomile Cordial

This morning I am a guest on Terri Trespicio's show on Martha Stewart Radio - Whole Living. I love coming on the show. Terri is a firecracker and I always have fun. Today we are talking about homemade holiday food gifts and cordials are one of my absolute favorites to make and give. Cordials are essentially sweetened syrups infused with herbs, spice or plants. They are simple to make and offer a wide range of flavors and essences to anyone willing to experiment. Cordials offer a perfect solution for a non-alcoholic ‘cocktail’ that is nothing short of grown up. For this syrup, you can use either fresh or dried chamomile flower heads. Chamomile is a dainty little white flower that has a tendency to prosper and spread amongst garden beds, cracks in the sidewalk and anywhere else it can take hold. Known for its medicinal properties (and ability to soothe), the sweet flavor from the flower heads also makes for a gentle summer drink. Add some syrup to some fizzy water and serve over crushed ice. If you want to go for gold, add a splash of cognac - its gentle flavor won’t overpower the floral note. This syrup is also delicious brushed onto a simple yellow or buttermilk cake.

CHAMOMILE CORDIAL

by Amy Pennington Makes about 2 cups | start to finish: 30 minutes

2 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers (or 1 tablespoon fresh chamomile flower heads) 2 cups boiled water 1/4 cup honey

Add chamomile flowers to muslin steeping bag or fine mesh tea strainer. (Chamomile seeds are quite small and thin, so be sure to use fine mesh so they don’t escape and float in your syrup.) Steep in boiled water until liquid is stained yellow and perfumed, about 20 minutes. Press any reserved liquid out from the muslin bag and discard the solids. Add the honey, and stir until dissolved. Keep in the refrigerator until cool.

Once cooled, completely, add crushed ice to a glass. Pour in about 1/2 cup of the chamomile cordial and top with equal parts seltzer water. Garnish with a thin slice of cucumber to fancy it up. If you like, add a float of cognac and serve immediately.

Store cordial in a clean jar or bottle, covered, in the fridge where it will last for several weeks.