It turns out that both people and nature can find good uses for gooseberries
I don’t usually mind sharing resources with the wildlife that surrounds us.
We put out seeds for the birds in winter and hummingbird nectar in summer. We laugh at the squirrels as they run back and forth, cheeks puffed out with treats, even when the treats are cherry tomatoes.
Something that happened last week left me feeling less benevolent. Having watched the gooseberries on the bush in our garden, tasting one from time to time to monitor the ripeness and waiting for them to be just right for making jelly, I was flabbergasted to find a pile of gooseberry skins, amounting to about half of the berries that had been on the bush the previous day, heaped up beside the bush.
Evidently, the chipmunks or squirrels had been waiting for the right moment, too. Right then, I realized that I only like sharing when it’s on my own terms.
I stripped the bush of all the remaining berries and proceeded to make them into jelly. When making jelly, it’s recommended to use a mixture of 3/4 fully ripe fruit with 1/4 underripe, for best flavour and pectin content. I just picked and used them all.
Being high in both pectin and acid, gooseberries make good jelly without the addition of commercial pectin. The first step is to extract juice from the berries and let it drip to strain out the seeds and skins. (Like our little friends, I didn’t use the gooseberry skins.)
To prepare the gooseberries, wash in cold water, measure, place in a heavy pan, and add 200 mL (about 3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp) of water for each 250 mL (1 cup) of fruit. Cover the pot and place over high heat until it boils. Then reduce heat and simmer until the berries are soft and mushy, crushing against the side of the pot as they cook. This step doesn’t take long, five to 10 minutes.
The next step is to pour the cooked fruit into a moistened jelly bag and allow the juice to drip through. As I was working with a small batch, I didn’t use a proper jelly bag, but poured the cooked berry mixture into a sieve lined with a double layer of cheesecloth and let it drip for an hour or so into a bowl below. For a larger batch, buy a jelly bag or find instructions online to make one. To ensure that jelly will be clear, allow the liquid to drip through unassisted. Squeezing or pushing on the pulp to speed it up will force some of the solids through, making the juice, and then the jelly, cloudy.
The next step in making jelly without adding commercial pectin is to make sure there is enough pectin in the mixture. Begin by measuring the extracted juice. If there’s a lot, divide it into batches no larger than 2 L (8 cups) for even cooking and good set. Bring the juice to a boil in an uncovered pot, and let boil for three minutes. Remove from the heat. Test for pectin by spooning 5 mL (1 tsp) of the cooked juice and 5 mL (1 tsp) of isopropyl alcohol (a poison) onto a little plate. Stir, and wait for 30 seconds. If a jelly-like mass forms, there is enough pectin, and you can go on to the next step. If not, boil it again to further concentrate the pectin, and test it at one-minute intervals until a clot does form. Don’t dip a spoon that was in contact with the alcohol mixture into the kettle of juice, and do not taste the alcohol mixture, or leave it where someone else may taste it, as it is poisonous. Discard it and rinse the spoons and plates used as soon as this step is complete.
Now add sugar to the hot juice, and stir to dissolve. The amount of sugar to add depends on the volume of juice you started with, and how long you had to boil it to concentrate the pectin. If there was enough pectin after three minutes of boiling, add 250 mL (1 cup) of sugar for each cup of juice you started with. If you had to boil it again, add 175 mL (¾ cup) of sugar for every 250 mL (1 cup) of juice you started with.
Heat the sweetened juice, and keep it at a full, rolling boil. To determine when the mixture has cooked enough, dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling mixture, raise it above the steam, and allow the mixture to run off the side and into the kettle. When it forms two drops that run together and drip at the same time, it is ready to bottle.
Ladle cooked jelly into sterilized 250 mL (8 oz) mason jars, leaving 5 mm (1/4 inch) headspace, and use a small rubber spatula to free any air bubbles. Add more liquid, if necessary, to adjust the headspace. Wipe rims with a clean damp cloth, dip a new snap lid into hot water and centre on the jar, and hold in place with a screw band, turned fingertip tight. Finally, process in a boiling water bath for two minutes, and allow to cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.