by Amy Saltzman
This week, I’m taking time off from writing about my CSA to write about my garden. It’s not much – a raised bed made of a converted IKEA TV stand and several planters are all my tiny yard can fit. It’s been a mixed harvest so far; my tomatoes have stubbornly refused to produce any fruit, and my peppers are just beginning earn their keep, but my basil: it is awesome. There’s only so much caprese salad one can eat, though, so I’ve been exploring ways of preserving basil. Pesto is always a possibility, of course, and it seems there is a French way of preservation that involves layering basil leaves and kosher salt. But in my research, I came across another intriguing idea: basil jelly.
Have I ever made jelly in my life? Well, no, but there’s a first time for everything. I couldn’t quite bring myself to choose a recipe that involved vinegar (really, in a jelly?), so I modified (slightly) a recipe I found for purple basil jelly.
2 packed cups of fresh basil leaves
2 C. boiling water
1/4 C. bottled lime juice
4 C. sugar
3 oz. liquid pectin (Certo)
Wash basil leaves, drain, and place in a heat-proof glass bowl. Pour boiling water over leaves and steep for 24 hours; refrigerate as infusion begins to cool. Strain through fine sieve, reserving the liquid. Note: some people seem to get a pretty green infusion, but mine turned brown – this will result in a honey-colored jelly. Reportedly you can also add food coloring if you prefer it to be green, though I didn’t try.
Place jelly jars and lids in a stockpot deep enough to cover them with a few inches of water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, keeping jars hot until ready to fill.
Make jelly: stir lime juice and sugar into infusion in a stainless steel pan. Heat and bring to a full rolling boil. Add liquid pectin and continue to boil for two minutes, skimming any foam that rises to the surface. Remove from heat and work quickly to jar the jelly.
Ladle jelly into jars (it’s easiest to use a funnel) within about 1/4 inch of the top, clean the rim and threads, and place flat lid and ring on each jar before filling the next. Screw band on tightly and let cool on a dish towel. Jars should seal and lids should pop as they cool.
Despite my disappointment in the light brown (rather than green) color, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of this first attempt at jelly-making. The jelly itself is pretty sweet, but has a strong basil note. I’m planning to use it on sandwiches, as a glaze or part of marinade, and perhaps on biscuits at brunch or crackers with cream cheese. If I made it again, I might try to find a way to reduce the sugar, but I understand that fiddling with recipes that need to “set” may be dangerous. Maybe I should have gone with the vinegar version, after all. Are there any jelly-making connoisseurs out there who can offer me some tips?
Amy Saltzman is an avid gardener and cook in DC. She is a member of the Lancaster County Farm Fresh and North Mountain Pastures CSAs.