When most British people think of jelly, the first thing that comes to mind is the brightly coloured insipid wobbly stuff usually found at children’s parties. But, being an avid maker of preserves, I tend to think slightly differently.
For me, jelly is a smooth jam with all the fruit solids strained out. Its jam made just with juice. Jam happens when you keep the fruit solids in. Together they are both known as preserves.
Some fruits, for example strawberries, lend themselves best to jam. Whether left whole or mashed into oblivion, if its not strained, its jam. But other fruits, most notably hedgerow fruits like hips, haws and sloes, need to be sieved in order to become edible and have fiddly stones, remains of sepals, and irritatingly hairy seeds all removed. Together, jams and jellies are known as preserves, together with the thicker fruit cheeses and the dry fruit leathers.
And its true that over the autumn I scrounged every jar I could locate and made jellies of every conceivable description as one fruit after another ripened in the hedgerows. Both separate as individual fruit jellies and together as a mixed fruit hedgerow jelly, our cupboards were straining with the stuff. And as the last jar was filled, I put the jelly bag and cooking thermometer away, believing it would be next summer when I used them again.
But it seemed that my family were enjoying the jellies a bit too much, as one by one the jars started emptying! Now, we still have lots left but I was not sure it would last through to the first ripe hedgerow fruits of next autumn. So yesterday, in the weak midwinter sunshine and with mud underfoot, my husband and I set off to see what, if anything, was left to be gathered.
At this time of year it is usual to see both hips and haws still shining red and sweet, and we were not disappointed. We returned home tired and muddy and with a bag of little red jewels, which yesterday evening got mixed with apple and first juiced, then turned into jelly.
It only contains these three fruits but all the same it is still a mixed fruit jelly. Not as dark as previous incarnations, which earlier in the year contained quantities of brambles, it still tastes very rich. I think I will be calling it ‘Winter Hedgerow’ jelly, reflecting the scarcity of variation in the fruit and the richness of the taste even so.
And for healthy eating aficionados, yes, it is mostly sugar. No, its not that good either for your teeth or for weight gain. But for the simple pleasures of a muddy winter walk (which required my husband’s wheelchair to literally be hosed down when we came in!), an excuse to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine, the excitement at spotting still ripe fruit ready for picking, and the joy at being able to take it and preserve it for the winter and spring, it cannot be beaten for improving mental health and enabling one to relax in a job well done.
And when we eat it, its too rich to heap up and slather thickly on your toast A simple teaspoonful is perfect. And over the dark winter and early spring days it will be a small blob of potted sunshine, reminding us of the fun we had when walking, spotting and collecting them. And as healthy eating goes that’s good enough for me.