Saturday, October 1, 2016

Funky Jelly

One of the interesting things about moving 250 miles north has been learning about the different plants around our new home. You wouldn't think there would be too much difference between central New York and northern New York, but both A. and I have been at something of a loss to identify many of the plants that the children have asked us about.

They are, of course, mostly concerned with those they can eat. Blackberries and raspberries are pretty obvious, as are the apple trees that are absolutely everywhere. But this bush we've been seeing everywhere with bright red berries?

Image result for highbush cranberry images

Delicious or deadly? Let's not experiment.*

I told them to leave it alone, because I had no idea if it was edible. But then, when the MiL came to visit, we were walking down the dirt road and she saw those red berries and identified the plant as a highbush cranberry.

Actually she used the Latin name of Viburnum trilobum, because she's knowledgeable and precise like that, but then she helpfully added for us igoramuses that it's often called the highbush cranberry, even though it's not really related to the actual cranberry.

A useful person to have around, that MiL.

She also said it can be used to make jelly.

Jelly? Really? I'm in!

I've made a lot of jelly since we've been here. There are just so many free, wild-growing jelly fruits about. First the blackberries (yes, you can make jam from them, but I always make jelly from blackberries because I detest all the seeds). We have four pints of that in the utility room. Then there are all the wild apples and wild grapes. Three pints of that on the shelves downstairs.

But is seven pints of jelly enough? Not if you have three peanut-butter-and-jelly-eating children and also plan to give all the teachers, bus drivers, and mail carriers jelly for Christmas gifts.

So I decided to make viburnum jelly.

There's a standard procedure for all jelly-making: crush and cook the fruits, strain out the solids, add sugar to the resulting juice, heat to 218 degrees. I did do a cursory investigation online just to make sure there was nothing weird about the viburnum berries before I started, but I figured it would be pretty straighforward.

It was. Except for the smell.

One of the sites detailing the jelly-making I had quickly looked at had mentioned that the berries did not smell good when they were cooking. They really didn't. It was a very strange smell, something like cheese. Definitely not what you'd expect when you're boiling a bunch of berries. And definitely not very appealing.

A. was particularly repelled by the smell. So much so that he couldn't even bring himself to taste the juice when I had mixed it with the sugar. I tasted it, and although there was a slight funky taste, I thought maybe it would disappear during the actual jelling.

The juice jelled quickly and set up perfectly. It's a very pretty, clear red jelly. But it still has that funky smell and taste.

It's slight, and only in the initial taste. After that, it tastes just like cranberries. But I can't get past that smell and taste of slightly stinky cheese, no matter how minor. So now we have two pints of funky jelly that neither A. nor I will eat.

Luckily, the children don't seem to notice it. They'll eat anything sweet with peanut butter on their sandwiches, so I just hold my breath while I make them their funky PB&J and then get out the blackberry jelly for myself.

I may make more jelly, but I think I'll stick to the apple and grape variety from now on. Cheesy jelly is just not okay with me.**

* I lifted that image from this site, which is very interesting and informative, though specific to Prince Edward Island in Canada. You think Anne of Green Gables ever made cheesy jelly?

** Though it occurs to me that it might be good in some kind of combination with actual cheese, sort of like the classic Spanish pairing of quince jelly and manchego cheese. If you're into that sort of thing, which I'm not really.


Daisy said...

I've never dealt in highbush cranberries, although I know friends in Door County Wisconsin (the "thumb" of the state) who swear by them in a sauce for Thanksgiving. I'm still staring at my apple/cherry jelly that wouldn't jell and wondering when I'll get up the energy to remake it.

Debbie Nichol said...

I made some years ago for my late father in law. Threw the first batch out and asked what I had done wrong. He laughed and said it smells bad, but tastes great. Cooked another batch and gave him all of it, could not bring myself to eat what smelled like hockey socks!

Roger A. Post said...

Our highbush cranberries are Viburnum edule, but they smell the same as yours. We have always called it the smell of Fall because it is virtually omnipresent in the woods around here in September. The Cooperative Extension Service says highbush cranberries have more than 4 times the anti-oxidants as domestic blueberries so it may be worthwhile to hold your nose and eat the jelly.

Daisy said...

So the jelly thing - I have trouble getting my jelly to jell. Jam is no problem. Do you have any secrets?