Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Making Dandelion Jelly: A Beginner's Journey

Hello Fellow Gardeners!

My family loves jelly so we go through a lot of it. Last year, I decided to dabble in making jelly and jam. My first project was freezer jam. I found an incredible sale on strawberries, so strawberry freezer jam it was. It was de-lish! Next I wanted to try my hand at canning jelly. I have never made jelly, or canned anything. I understood it was harder to do than freezer jams and I did not want to waste a lot of expensive fruit. So, lo and behold, I found an amazing blog with a recipe for corn cob jelly! This was perfect because last year's corn crop was sad. I had more cob than corn! So, I tried it, and it came out de-lish. Even gave it away as Christmas gifts. (Though my mom is the only one who said she liked it and wanted more. Yay for moms!)

So, all this got me to thinking, 'what else can I use for jelly?' Last year I discovered dandelions are edible and they are jam-packed with nutrients. (Get it? JAM-packed? OK, OK...moving on...) In fact, they were a crop in settler times. (More on all that later.) So in my quest for knowledge of frugal food, I came across dandelion jelly! There are a ton of recipes out there for it! Who knew?! Well, I do and now you do to. So, without further ado, I take you on my dandelion jelly making journey.

First thing you need is some time. It's best to pick and prepare the dandelions right before cooking with them. Honestly, I did not do this the first time around. But I can tell you, it is much easier to work with the dandelions when they are fresh.

Some tips on picking dandelions...  First, know where they've been. Obviously you know 'where' they are, but know their history. If you have sprayed herbicide in your yard, probably not a good idea to cook with plants from your yard. If you pick dandelions elsewhere, find out if poisons are used on the lawn/ground before picking. I am no expert here and I don't know how long after poisons have been sprayed before it's safe to consume these plants as I do not use poison in my yard. If in doubt, don't do it and stop spraying your yard. Also beware if water runs off of a neighboring yard into yours. We have had our place almost 7 years with no poison use, so I feel safe eating plants out of our ground. But again, I'm no expert, use discretion!

After finding a safe place to pick your dandelions... Pick healthy looking flowers. I try to pick the biggest flowers that are fully open and not too dirty. But, with that said, my yard is small and I want to make sure to get enough so that's not an exact science.

Don't worry too much about bugs, mainly ants. Most of them will run off the flower after you pick it. If not, you will be boiling these flowers and the subsequent juice to the point that nothing will live in it anyway. If this grosses you out, don't garden and don't buy organic produce. Bugs are part of the game.

So, get to picking some dandelion flowers! Most recipes I found called for a quart of them. Obviously the more you have, the stronger the flavor will be.

Next, remove all the green parts. I took the recommendation I found on many other sites of just cutting them off with scissors.

Then you have your flowers! Some green is OK, but I think I still didn't cut enough off. The jelly was a bit too bitter. The next batch I cut a bit higher and had a lot less green in the petals when I was done.

Get about 4 cups or one quart. (Just throwing that out there in case you are sleep deprived like I am. Not sure I would have gotten that correct without my measuring cup as a cheat sheet! Come one, don't act like I'm the only one...)

Now this is where the recipes start to differ. Some tell you to boil the petals for different lengths of time, and others tell you to soak in boiling water for different lengths of time. I opted to pour boiling water over mine, up to the 1 quart mark, and let them soak overnight. This helps to split the process up since picking the flowers and preparing them takes quite a bit of time.


Now strain the juice from the petals. You can use cheesecloth, but I prefer to use something washable. I have not had much luck in washing and reusing cheesecloth and it's expensive! So when I need to strain something like this, I keep a flour sack towel and a flat diaper towel around. They strain well without getting fuzz in your food and wash out very well. (Be sure to use a diaper that has NOT been used for it's original purpose!) I hang the cloth so that I can do other things while it's straining. When it quit dripping, I squeezed it out several times and much more came out! The liquid looks pretty dark right now, but don't be alarmed.

The remainder doesn't look so savory! I threw this in the compost pile. There are recipes that use dandelion petals and I'm sure you could use the strained petals for those too, though I have not tried it.

Whenever you are ready to start canning, get all your materials ready. First, and most important, is a baby sitter. You can try nap time if you dare, but even the best sleepers will know when you are up to something and will wake up on you. Trust me on this one. I have the best nappers, but lo and behold, they both woke up at different times in this process. If your spouse is gone, recruit Grandma, your kindly neighbor, or whoever you may have.

The next item is a huge pot to boil your jars in. Now, if you have a pressure cooker/canner, you are already way ahead of me, and I hope you aren't laughing too hard at this post! I chose the biggest, cheapest pot that Wal-mart could provide. There are certainly fancier, sturdier pots, but until I know I am going to get along with this whole canning thing, I will stick with this. Perhaps a nice canning pot will be here in the future. On a side note, this is also why I highly recommend not having your children underfoot. This pot is bigger than my littlest one and I don't even want to imagine what this amount of boiling water dumping over could do to him.

Get some canning jars of any size you prefer. We go through enough jelly that I use the pint-size jars (the two in the back) for us and use the smaller one cup jelly jars (in the front) for gifts. I have also used the teeny half cup jars (not shown) if I want several gifts or to use as samplers. Be sure to wash them in hot, soapy water before using them.

Then I got a canning supply set that has (from left to right) a jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, bubble remover/head space tool, and a jar funnel. I have yet to use the bubble remover/head space tool, though.

Then pick out some pectin. I am far from an expert here. I have several different kinds but have only used a couple so far. Mrs. Wages on the right is what I used for this process. The boxes are for single recipes and the containers have enough for a few recipes. I just get what is on sale and/or cheapest and don't have a preference yet. The nice thing is, they all have recipes included!

The first thing you want to do (after making sure you have everything you need) is get that canning pot on to boil! I have a coil-top stove and, believe you me, it takes forever and a day for something to boil, especially something this big. Perhaps one day I'll have a gas range, but until then, I work with what I have. You want to fill the pot to the point where your tallest jar will have one to two inches of water covering it. You need to get the jars hot so that when you add hot liquid, the glass won't break due to temperature differentials. Also, this will sterilize your jars.

Get a pot bigger than you need to prepare the jelly. It tends to boil over, at least for me! I like my coated cast iron dutch oven here because this pot holds heat very well. The jelly stays hot long enough to keep from jelling up before I have the jars filled.

Now, find the recipe you want to use. You aren't meant to be able to read this pic, but to show you what to expect when you get a box of pectin. Jelly is not one-size-fits-all. Different fruits have different levels of natural pectin, therefore, they all need different levels of added pectin to set up into jelly. You can even make jelly without any added pectin with certain fruits like apples, though I have not been successful with that yet. Dandelion flowers were not on this list, so I tried to use the next best thing. Mint jelly is on here and I am guessing that dandelion petals have as little pectin in them as mint leaves do, so I went that route. At the last minute I added more liquid and sugar. I tried to squeeze as much jelly out of the pectin that I could.

Get your ingredients pre-measured and ready to pour. Once things get rolling, you don't have a lot of slack time.

Add water to your strained liquid if you don't have quite enough for the recipe. On a side note: don't make a double batch. It may not set up properly. It's better to take the extra time and work to make 2 separate batches than have a failed double batch.

Adding the pectin. It's probably best to whisk this in as you sprinkle it, but alas, I had a camera in my other hand...

Adding the lemon juice. Annoyingly enough, this recipe didn't give a specific amount, but still called for it, so after looking up other recipes online, I added about 1-2 tablespoons. Not exact as you can see...

Prepare a place to sit your hot jars and pour in the jelly. I use a couple layers of kitchen towels. It protects the counter and catches spills. Then I can throw them in the wash for easy cleanup.

Follow your recipe for boiling times and amounts of ingredients. Here I used 4 cups of juice. I brought it to a boil,

quickly stirred in all my pre-measured sugar at once, and brought it back up to a rolling boil that I could not stir down. I let it boil for one minute, no longer as the recipe says overcooked pectin will break down if cooked too long and may not gel up.

Then remove it from the heat and skim off any foam that may have developed. Quickly, but carefully, take your jars out of the boiling water (keep it boiling), empty the water out of them, and place them on your prepared surface.

Quickly and carefully ladle the jelly into the jars leaving about 1/4 inch space from the top of the jar AKA head space. (This is where you can use your bubble remover/head space tool if you wish.) I should note that I always prepare an extra jar or two in case I end up with more jelly than I expected. Wipe any spilled jelly off the rims.

Quickly and carefully place the lids on top

and tighten the rings on firmly. You'll want to tighten one ring at a time so they don't get too hot on you. They will heat up quickly when they touch the jars. Use potholders to hold the jar! It will be hot this entire time!

Then quickly and carefully place all the jars back into your boiling pot of water making sure all jars have at least an inch or two of water covering their tops. Add more water if you need to and bring it all back to a rolling boil. Now here's another area where you will find different amounts of times called for. I have let jars boil for 10 minutes after the water returned to a boil, but this recipe called to let it boil 5 minutes, remove the pot from the heat, then let the jars sit in the hot water for 5 minutes, so that's what I did.

Then remove the jars.  I slightly tip them to let the water roll off the top.

I quickly and carefully dry the tops and let them cool!

Time to clean up! The little bit of jelly left in the pot is already starting to gel up. That's a great sign!


When everything is completely cool, I use a sharpie to write the contents and the date it was canned. Once the flat part of the lid has been used for canning, you cannot use it again, so that's why I choose to write it there. It helps me keep better track of the used vs. unused lids. I will re-use these lids for dry storage purposes or crafts when the time comes.

This is my extra jar with my leftover jelly. I might have been able to squeeze it into the other jars, but I play it safe. I don't process partial jars. They go straight into the fridge for immediate eating! Yum! The best part of all your hard work is reaping the rewards! 

Know that there are several different ways to make jelly. Experiment to find your favorite way. This is fun and even if you mess it up, you'll have sweet and unique syrup for your waffles the next day! Tell me how your jelly-dabbling adventures go!

Happy Canning!

Jen Hen

This post shared at New Life on a Homestead.

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