August 24, 2013
A while back, my husband’s aunt introduced me to elderberry jelly. I loved it. Ate the first jar she sent me in three days. I had never heard tell of this wondrous berry before so I asked my husband. It grows wild all around here, he informed me. So I made him take me out and show me. Our property had lots of these elderberry bushes, I was amazed. I can make some jelly, I thought. Elderberries grow around creek banks, old homesteads and other odd places around here. The bushes have the most beautiful blooms, white flowers that remind you of a honeysuckle. But when the berries come on, they are in pods with the berries being smaller than a BB.
So I waited and waited. Since I’d learned of this in the early spring, I had to wait until August or September to harvest the berries. When August arrived, I dutifully went out every couple of mornings to check on my crop. Traipsing through the tall dew-soaked grass, I would walk up and down the creek bank checking the state of my pods. Coming home wet to the knees and squishing in my shoes, I’d report that they weren’t quite ready yet. Just as soon as a bunch would be almost ready, the birds would attack. I didn’t think I’d ever get to make myself any of that heavenly jelly. Finally, the day arrived when I could take my lard bucket and harvest some berries. I carefully cut the pods from the bushes, holding them over the bucket so not to lose the small berries. I proudly carried my bucket home and sat my prize down to finish later. I had already picked corn for freezing that day and needed to get that finished first.
When the time came to start on my jelly, I pulled up the article I’d looked up on the internet. According to the article, I would need to detach all of the ripe berries from the pod, making sure not to leave any of the stems behind. Ok, I thought, I can do this. So I began to rake the berries from the pods. Noticing that some of the stems were still sticking to the berries. I reread the article and found that the author had spent a couple of hours destemming the berries after getting them off the pod. I could totally understand, as some of the stems were microscopic. Not one to give up easily, I picked and prodded until my back began to ache from leaning over the kitchen sink.
As the pain kicked into high gear, I thought of my husband’s aunt. She had just put up twenty-one jars of this jelly. And she was old. Not ancient mind you but still, I mean, I couldn’t see myself doing this kind of thing in thirty some odd years. So, I decided to put my pride on the line and give her a call. After the how do you do’s were exchanged, I got down to business. Not wanting to admit that I may have bitten off more than I could chew with removing these berries from the pods, I casually asked how she made her jelly. She was more than happy to explain. But she started with the part where you already have the juice from the berries! She skipped the entire process that I needed to know. I patiently took notes and listened to what she had to say on the subject. She talked and talked about boiling, and timing, and stirring and putting in jars but not one word of how to actually get the small berries to put forth their precious juice. On and on she went, never slowing long enough for me to tell her that all of her instructions wouldn’t mean crap if I killed my self plucking each individual berry from it’s teeny-tiny stem. She stopped for a breath and I plunged. But, uh, how do you get the juice out of the berries? I ventured. Oh, she replied, you put them in a pot and boil them. I know but how do you get them all off the stems. I was feeling really silly by this point in the conversation. Oh honey, I don’t take them off the stems, I put it all in the pot. Just make sure there aren’t any bugs on it.
Well, that made sense to me. I mean it would take days to process enough berries to make one batch of jelly at the rate I was going. Ecstatic, I thanked her, told her I let her know my progress and hung up. Raring to get back to my project. So I plunked my big ol pot on the stove and started checking each pod carefully for bugs. There were spiders and stink bugs, grasshopper and some things I don’t think I’d ever seen before. So I picked and picked and picked. My enthusiasm was waning. The amount of pods in my bucket wasn’t transferring to my pot as quickly as I’d hoped. Then I got to thinking (that is never a good thing) and I thought about how everyone needed a little protein in their diet and it probably wouldn’t hurt to boil a few of those bugs up with the berries. I mean it’s just like these companies adding extra vitamins to their products to make them healthier, right? So I just started dumping the pods into the pot. If I noticed a bug, I made an effort to try to get it. But I was going to strain all the berries and stems from the juice, so I figured I’d get the little skeletons in the process.
Eventually, I had everything transferred, and my berries boiling in the pot. I finished my juice and strained it. It smelled wonderful. As of tonight, I have not made the jelly. My aching body decided that it could do no more today, so I will make the jelly tomorrow and let you know how it turns out. 🙂
Update: I ended up making 11 jars of jelly from that batch, my husband gets to try it today.