My poshest preserve (scrummy on scones)

I’m off to the the preserving showdown Jam Off in Wellington this weekend with a special jar of sparkling red jelly packed in my hand luggage. (Here’s the background story, from my Good Life column in NZ Gardener.)

Figuring that the fancier a jam sounds, the more likely it is to appeal to the judges, I invented my own Elderberry, ‘Albany Surprise’ grape & Pinot Noir Mulled Wine Jelly. It’s my version of an uber posh preserve – and I have to say that it’s quite possibly the most delicious jelly I’ve ever made. Leaves quince jelly and crabapple jelly for dead, and not just because the colour is an intense ruby red.

The good thing about making jellies is that you really don’t need to stick to a recipe. Just bung any fruit you have – apples, crabapples, pears, feijoas, berries, guavas – into a pot, cover with water and simmer until the fruit is tender and pulpy. Then pour this pulp through a jelly bag or a double-folded piece of muslin (even a clean pillowcase will do the trick at a pinch) and let the juice drip out slowly into a bowl overnight. Resist the temptation to squeeze the pulp, as this can turn your jelly cloudy. The next day, measure the volume of liquid and bring it to boil in a pot. Then add an equal volume of sugar (ie, 2 cups of juice = 2 cups sugar). Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves, then boil rapidly until the liquid changes consistency and goes clear. (If you’ve never made jelly before, this is quite a noticeable change when it happens, and is usually accompanied by the sudden formation of scum on the surface, which is easily scooped off.) Test for setting point, then pour into jars and seal. And here’s my cheat’s tip: use Chelsea Jam Setting Sugar, which contains pectin and citric acid. It makes foolproof jelly in 5 minutes. Until I started using this special jam sugar, I could never get my red cherry guava jelly to set firmly (I just pretended I was making guava cordial or guava sauce).

To make my mulled wine jelly, I started with a few handfuls of dark purple elderberries off the scrubby old shrub in my city garden. I used them more for their colour than their flavour, which can be a tad overpowering. Elderberries are a roadside weed in most parts of the South Island, but if you want to grow a nice variety, Sarah Frater at The Edible Garden in Palmerston North has a beautiful lacy-leafed species called Sambucus laciniata. (It’s not listed in her mail order catalogue, but you can email her to request it. It has the same fruit as a standard elder but isn’t nearly as vigorous, which is a good thing! She also has the old-time variety ‘Adam’ in her Koanga Collection).

I placed the elderberries in a pot with 1kg ‘Albany Surprise’ grapes (the best variety for sweet, black, juicy grapes in late summer/early autumn) and lightly crushed them with a potato masher. Then I added 1 cup water, half a bottle of pinot noir wine, a cinnamon stick, half a dozen whole cloves and the zest of 1 orange (just peel it off in strips with a potato peeler, trying not to get any bitter pith). Add the orange juice too if you like. I also snuck in 2 star anise and a pinch of mixed spice (just because I had them in the pantry). Simmer over a low heat for an hour or so (don’t boil hard or the liquid evaporates and you’ll end up going through all this effort to make one miserable jar), then strain through a jelly bag overnight. Then measure the juice, add an equal quantity of sugar, and boil as per the instructions above.

(And if you’d rather just drink mulled wine, here is Jamie Oliver’s recipe.)