Walking back from my chicken coop the other evening, I stopped to sample the honeysuckle that has had a terrific show this year. The whole yard has been engulfed by the sweet, nostalgic aroma and I couldn’t resist having a taste. I thought to myself that it was a shame that I couldn’t save this beautiful thing… and then it hit me, maybe I can. I figured that anything with a bloom could be made into an infusion and anything with nectar could probably become jelly. So I grabbed a little bucket and started picking the pretty little blossoms until my fingers were sticky with the sweetness.
The next step was to wade through a million websites to see what other kitchen witches were doing with their honeysuckle blossoms. I was pleasantly surprised that there were many others who had experimented with wild flower jellies and I even discovered some great snips from very old cook books.
There was a bit of trial and error, and what ended up working for me was a recipe that took bits and parts from several other methods. This is what I did to achieve six 1/2 pint jars of this beautiful, wild golden deliciousness:
- 4 cups honeysuckle blossoms
- 4 cups boiling water
- 2 TBSP lemon juice
- 1 1/2 boxes of powdered pectin
- 4 1/2 cups sugar
- I cleaned up my flowers, pinching many of the little green bulbs off the butts of the blooms. I discarded any dried up old blooms, threw a couple of little garden bugs out the door, and was left with about 4 cups of white and yellow flowers – some were brand new and barely opened, and some were older (these darker yellow blooms, as all country children know, have the strongest “honey”). Note: Although most recipes I found insisted that you use only open flowers and pinch all the bulbs off, I used several unopened blooms, and didn’t pinch all the bulbs… I noticed that much of the nectar was sticking to my fingers instead of staying with the flowers, so I did end up leaving about 1/2 of the blossoms with their little green butts intact… I still ended up with a fantastic honey flavor – the boiling water knows how to get to the goodness with our without the green bulbs on!
- I boiled 4 cups of water and dumped my flowers into the pot. Turned off the heat, covered, and let steep for about 2 hours. I stirred the tea up a few times while it was sitting and even tasted the brew a couple of times. Note: this would make a fantastic warm tea with a little honey and cinnamon.
- I strained my tea through a colander and squeezed my flowers to release all of the goodness. A cheese cloth would be optimum, and make a cleaner tea, but since I didn’t have one on hand, my tea did have a few very small bits of flower parts (the whole flower is edible, so no worries!) Note: the little squeezed ball of leftover flowers would be great for your compost. I gave mine to the chicken ladies and they thought it was a fun treat!
- Pour about 3 1/2 cups of your tea into your pot and set your stove to Med/Hi. You can then add 2 TBSP of lemon juice and 1 1/2 boxes of powdered pectin. Stir, stir, stir. Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. Once you have a rolling boil, dump 4 1/2 cups of sugar in all at once… and stir, stir, stir. Once it’s back to a rolling boil that you cannot stir down, let it boil for one full minute longer. Then remove from heat. Note: I learned this the hard way – when you’re ready to create your jelly, grab your pot that has the widest opening. Apparently a very open pot and a wide surface area helps the jell process.
- Ladle your concoction into your clean jars. Cap with new, sterilized lids and rings. I turned my jars upside down on a clean towel on my counter top for about 10 minutes immediately after I filled them. Then I flipped them back to right-side-up and the plinking and popping started pretty soon after that. This is the old fashioned method, where the hot jelly juice actually helps keep the tops of the jars sterilized while it’s upside down. This method works for me. If you prefer the extra safe recommendation, then process your jars in a water bath for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let sit for 10 more minutes. Then carefully remove jars and place on a dry towel on your counter top. You’ll start to hear your little “plinks” and “pops” as the jars seal.
- Be sure you’re harvesting flowers that have had no pesticides sprayed on them.
- Watch for bees while you’re collecting your blossoms!
- Don’t try to double the batch. Jellies are persnickety, so if you want more, plan on making separate batches.
- Be sure to have your jars and lids clean and ready before you start cooking your jelly, you can submerge them in a big pot of gently simmering water for just a few minutes before you start your jelly adventure, and pull them out when you’re ready to fill them. You can also run them through your dishwasher with the high heat setting beforehand. Place the lids in a smaller pot and simmer until just before you’re ready to cap the jars.
- When pouring in your jelly, be sure to leave about a 1/4 inch of headspace in your jars.
- Try not to dribble when filling your jars. If you do, wipe them with a clean warm cloth before putting your rings on.
- If you want the jars to be shelf stable for a long amount of time, do a water bath. Set your jars on a rack in a deep pot of pre-warmed water. If you do not have a rack, you can tie together some extra jar bands (rings) and gently place your jars on top. Be sure the water is at least 1 inch over the tops of your jars. Let it come to a gentle boil for ten minutes then turn off the heat.
- If you want to skip the water bath, then just place your jars in a nice quiet area on your counter top upside down for about ten minutes, then flip them back upright and they will seal. Just be sure your jars are clean and your lids are sterilized before making your jelly. This method has worked for our grandparents, and theirs, forever.
- Give your jars a whole 24 hours to cool. If you have a jar that doesn’t seal, just put it in your fridge and eat it first!
And that’s what I know about making your own delicious batch of honeysuckle jelly! So go ahead and whip you up a batch and enjoy it on toast, bagels, pancakes or whatever else your heart desires. I tried mine last night with homemade kefir cheese and herb crackers… it was superb! Even though the jelly and the kefir cheese (which I’m so darn excited that I also made myself!) are very very old concoctions, while I sat at the table eating these delicious treats, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d stolen some secret from an ultra-hip, high-dollar fancy restaurant. It’s really really good stuff, especially when you’ve done it all yourself!
Now, if for some reason your jelly doesn’t set within 24 hours, no worries! You can either use it for a delicious honeysuckle syrup or fix it. There is a fantastic little recipe to help cure runny jelly issues at PickYourOwn.org.
If you have any honeysuckle blossoms leftover from your harvest, put them in a jar, pour sunflower oil over them (or organic Olive or Jojoba oil) and let steep for 2 -3 weeks. Stir or shake occasionally. Then strain into a dark tinted or colored bottle to keep. This will make a lovely massage oil that is said to have relaxing and calming effects. In folk medicine, this type of honeysuckle infusion is said to be great for minor cuts and scratches as well as insect bites and other mild skin irritations.
So, what are you waiting for…. go out there right now and pick a peck of pretty honeysuckle blossoms!