It has come to this: I have so many raspberries ready to harvest in my backyard that I made jelly — the gardener’s equivalent of blowing a wad in Vegas, buying a fur coat, and drinking a $5 latte all in one day. Jelly is decadence, but when you are harvesting 16 cups of raspberries almost every day, when your freezer is full, when your neighbors have eaten all they want, and your pants are getting tight from all the raspberry cobbler you’ve made — it’s time for jelly.
Unlike jam, which is a thrifty spread full of fiber and fruit pulp, jelly requires only the essence of the fruit, the tarty juice extracted after hours of squeezing and dripping. To make a decadent jelly, start with 16 cups of absolutely fresh raspberries. (You can pick them in my backyard, if you’d like!) Rinse them lightly to get off any stray dirt or bugs, and let them drain on a paper towel a few minutes. Then, put the berries in a large pot, crush them a bit and turn on the heat. The goal is to get the berries to start juicing up without actually cooking much. When the berries come to a boil, take them off the heat, and crush a bit more with a potato masher. Get that juice flowing.
Let them cool while you prepare your juice extraction system. You can buy something called a “jelly bag” but I just lined a colander with several sheets of cheesecloth. Put the colander over a large pan to catch the juice, and pour the berries and juice through the colander. Plan on several hours for all of the juice to come out. After the first rush of juice, I wrapped the cheesecloth around the berries and put a plate and a can of soup on top of them to get more juice out. Push on it occasionally. You should end up with about 4 cups of raspberry juice. (If you are a little short of juice, add some water.)
The jelly recipe I used is the basic one on the box of powdered pectin and with juice this fresh, it’s plenty good. You start by preparing your jars and getting water boiling in a boiling water bath canning pot. (For good instructions on basic canning, check out this site.) In another large pot, mix the juice and a box of powdered pectin, such as Sure-Jell. Bring this to a boil. When the liquid is boiling, add all at once 5 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir it to mix in the sugar, and bring this up to a rolling boil (one that you cannot stir down). Let it boil hard for 1 minute, then pour the jelly into your sterilized jelly jars, put on sterilized lids and rings, and boil in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (some instructions say 10, but I did 5). Remove the jars from the boiling water bath and listen for the “ping” that tells you the jars are sealed. Let cool and store.
This recipe makes 6 half-pint jars of jelly, plus a little left over for the cook to put in the refrigerator and enjoy with toast the next morning.