19 May 2010

"Usual indulgencies; jelly or creams"

Last weekend, in addition to admiring my irises and early roses, weeding, planting tomatoes, and a host of other things, I harvested an astonishing amount of lemon balm.

Harvested. Sounds so agricultural, doesn't it? The truth is that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a relative of mint and runs as joyously amok. It is growing all sorts of places I didn't plant it, and I was yanking it out by the roots from several beds and the edge of my driveway.

Like its cousin, lemon balm makes a pleasant jelly. Here is the only herb jelly recipe you will ever need:


1-2 cups fresh herb of your choice, washed, patted dry, and chopped coarsely
2 to 2 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup lemon juice or vinegar
4 cups sugar
3.5 oz packet liquid pectin (e.g. Certo)
Optional: food colouring

Batterie de cuisine: medium-sized bowl, heavy pot for cooking jelly, large stockpot for boiling jars, six 1-pint canning jars with lids, canning funnel, spoons and ladles.

Notae: How much fresh herbage you use is dependent on two things: potency of the herb and your own tastes. I'd use less of potent woody herbs (like rosemary) but for things like mint or lemon balm, I use a full 2 cups.

Pretty much any herb will work -- mint is an obvious choice, but thyme, tarragon, rose petals, lavender blossoms, and so on can also be used. If you attempt rose jelly, be sure to trim away the white heel of the petal. In all cases, of course, avoid plant matter that has been treated with pesticides or fungicides.

The usual rule of thumb is to use vinegar with jellies meant for savoury use (e.g., mint jelly for lamb) and lemon juice for sweets (e.g., spreading on toast). White or cider vinegars are probably best for general purposes, though certainly one could experiment with red wine or even balsamic vinegars, depending on the herb and intended use.

Wine or fruit juice may be substituted for some or all of the water if one chooses as well. (The idea of a white wine and tarragon jelly for serving with chicken or fish sounds really good to me).

Herb jellies often come out very pale to colourless, so you may wish to add a drop or two of liquid food colouring in an appropriate shade. I don't like to use more than a drop or two -- the point is to enhance the appearance of the jelly, not to make it look like something from a package of artificially flavoured gelatine.


Put the herbs in a bowl and pour the boiling water over. Leave to steep for 10-15 minutes, then strain the infusion into a heavy pot, squeezing the herbs to extract all the moisture.

Add sugar and lemon juice or vinegar to the infusion and bring to a boil, stirring often and skimming off any foam that rises. When foam has stopped rising and the mixture is at a boil, add the food colouring (if using) and the pectin. Stir to combine and remove from heat.

Ladle the jelly into clean, hot jars (this is where the canning funnel is useful), put on the lids, and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Remove from the water and allow to cool, checking to be sure the lids have sealed before storing.

Anna Lætitia Barbauld

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