|Lemon balm is just one of the garden volunteers that can be used to make jellies. English photo.|
by Roberta Bailey
This was a summer for appreciating volunteers. I didn’t necessarily have a lot of people volunteering to help weed or mulch, and I wasn’t dedicating the summer to all the great efforts of MOFGA volunteers – though their efforts deserve such a summer as we just had. Rather I was appreciating a bounty of plants that reseeded themselves from the year before – my plant volunteers. I try to let them thrive wherever they pop up. I honor them when I can, although a sunflower in the onion or pepper row just won’t work. But they can grow all they want among the peas, and I dedicate areas to the chaos of volunteers.
I have started to introduce new plants to add to the diversity of the chaos. This year I planted ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth in hopes that its beautiful, deep magenta-red leaves would splash color here and there for years to come. Mixed with the yellows and orange of the ‘Resina’ calendula, whew, a live palette of color shifting around the garden from year to year.
Each plant tells a story. The calendulas and morning glories remind me of the years of growing seed crops in certain parts of the garden. The husk cherries and tomatillos harken back to trial plots of a dozen or more varieties and lots of salsa verde. The sunflowers just traverse the garden so much that I have to pull many of them. The red poppies are a mystery … maybe a packet came in the mail; I don’t remember, but they are allowed to grow anywhere they please.
Kale is nearly sacred in my garden, and if it overwinters–a semi-miraculous event – it broadcasts its seed and produces volunteers for years in all shades and frill of leaf. It too is allowed to grow anywhere.
Volunteer lettuce is always a mystery, as I don’t have any going to seed. Some of the seed that I planted must wait until the next year to sprout.
I still have a few ‘Golden’ beets coming up from the year of selecting a specific golden color out of a beet mix, then producing a seed crop. And last year’s potato row was definitely where the summer squash is this year. The volunteer potatoes were tolerated until they started to compete with the zucchini.
The volunteers that I appreciate most are the herbs. They usually sprout well before I seed my herb rows and give me early dill, caraway, anise, cilantro, fennel, garlic and sage.
This year I started to make volunteer jelly…herbal jellies made with various combinations of the volunteers plants in the garden. Here are a few of the recipes. All are made with low methoxyl pectin, which relies on a calcium solution to thicken them instead of specific amounts of sugar, so you can reduce the sugar or use honey, maple syrup, stevia or none at all. Low methoxyl pectin is available at health food stores and online (in bulk), most often as Pomona’s Pectin. One box thickens about 16 to 20 cups of jam or jelly. (The calcium solution is made by mixing monocalcium phosphate, which comes in the Pomona’s box, with water.)
Mint Apple Jelly
3 c. fresh spearmint leaves and stems, washed and chopped
5 c. cider or apple juice
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 c. sugar or 3/4 c. honey or maple syrup
2 1/2 tsp. low methoxyl pectin
5 tsp. calcium solution (1/8 tsp. calcium powder dissolved in 1/4 c. water)
Place mint and juice in a stainless saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand 1/2 hour. Strain through cheesecloth into a bowl. Add lemon juice and stir. Blend the pectin with the sugar or other sweetener. If
using no sweetener, whisk pectin into the juice. A blender does this best. Stir the pectin and sweetener into the juice. Bring to a boil and add the 5 tsp. calcium solution. Test for desired thickness by taking a spoonful of the
juice and chilling it. It will thicken once cooled. If it is not thick enough, reheat and add more calcium solution. Fill clean, hot, half-pint jars with jelly, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Seal jars and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes 5 to 6 half pints.
Sage Onion Jelly
2 lbs. onions sliced
3 c. water
3/4 c. cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage (or thyme) leaves
1 c. sugar or 1/2 c. honey
1/2 tsp. low methoxyl pectin per cup of liquid
1 tsp. calcium solution per cup of liquid
Peel and slice onions. Place in a nonreactive saucepan; add the 3 cups water and chopped sage and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand 20 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth until dripping stops. Press gently.
Measure the liquid into a saucepan. Add the vinegar. Measure your liquid volume. Mix the pectin with the sugar or honey or directly into the liquid. Stir while bringing to a boil. Add 1 tsp. calcium solution (see above) for each cup of liquid, including the vinegar. Skim any foam from surface. Fill clean, hot, sterile jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Makes 3 c. jelly.
Thai Garlic, Ginger, Cilantro and Lemon Balm or Lemongrass Jelly
(all flavors/ingredients optional)
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil or canola oil
1 large head garlic, cloves peeled and crushed or minced
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger root
1 c. chopped cilantro (optional)
4 sprigs lemon grass or lemon balm
4 c. water
1/2 c. apple cider or rice vinegar
1 c. honey
1/2 tsp. low methoxyl pectin per cup liquid
1 tsp. calcium solution per cup of liquid
Sauté the garlic in the sesame oil until tender. Add the water, ginger, cilantro and lemon grass or balm. Bring to a boil. Simmer 2 minutes, then let sit for 1/2 hour. Strain through cheesecloth. Add vinegar. Measure liquid volume. Return to a boil. Stir the pectin into the honey. Whisk into the liquid. Add the calcium solution, 1 tsp. per cup of liquid. Stir well. Fill clean, hot, sterile jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
This is a generic formula for making ANY herbal jelly. You choose the herbs that excite your palate. Lavender, lemon verbena, tomato and basil, sage, thyme, chive, marjoram, cilantro, garlic, anything will work. The liquid base can be water or juice from fruit, berries or citrus, or wine. The sweetener can be sugar, evaporated cane juice, stevia, honey, maple syrup or nothing. Some herbs will lend a nice color: Try red shiso/perilla, purple basil or calendula flower petals.
Gather about 2 cups of fresh herbs. Wash and drain them, then coarsely chop them. Crush or macerate them and place them in a nonreactive saucepan. Add 2 1/2 c. liquid (water or juice) and bring it to a boil for half a minute. Remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes.
Strain liquid through cheesecloth and measure liquid. Add 1 Tbsp. vinegar (rice wine, cider or white) per cup of strained liquid. Add a pinch of salt. For each cup of liquid, stir 1 tsp. low methoxyl pectin into 1/8 c. honey or sugar or blend directly into the liquid with a blender. (Always use 1 tsp. pectin per cup of liquid.) Adjust sweetness. Bring liquid to a hard boil. Add 1 Tbsp. calcium solution per cup of liquid. Turn off the heat. Skim the foam from the top. Fill clean, hot, sterile jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
Roberta is a long-time writer for The MOF&G. She lives in Vassalboro.