I don’t sell what I make. It’s a product of love and a gift of love. So if you receive one, I either like you very much or you’ve done something very wonderful and I want to thank you in a really special way. While I sometimes add fruit from a farmer’s market, I’m not a big fan of buying already-picked berries, so for me, making jam or jelly often takes blood (briar patch scrapes, poison ivy, bites, stings), sweat (picking in high humidity, climbing hillsides like a goat) and tears (and maybe a little cursing).
With this in mind, I’m going to start with a little jam (think “seeds & pulp”) and jelly (think “juice only”) etiquette today. Not all jammers have the same philosophy, but I basically have just two guidelines to whether or not I give you jam a second time. They’re gonna’ sound mean, coming from my usual peace, free love and happiness, but this is where I choose to be rigid and a tad petty. My philosophy of jetiquette:
1. If you don’t eat jam or jelly, don’t take it. Nothing irks me more than finding out you re-gifted something I worked hard to make for you so that you can give it away to look special to someone else. This might not make sense unless you consider that I don’t like all your friends. Maybe I think your friend is an ass-hat. Do you think I would work so hard to make something so precious to give to an ass-hat? There are only 8-10 jars from each sweated out batch of jam, so Please, politely refuse the gift and explain that you don’t eat it. I won’t be offended and chances are, I’ll find something you love to make especially for you. (Naturally it’s meant to be shared with your significant other or children.)2. Return the jar if you ever want jam from me again. If you live far away or we rarely see each other, then pay it forward. Give that jar to someone else you know who makes jam. They will really appreciate it and chances are your jam gifts will double next year. Those jars are expensive and while I don’t remember every jar given to every person, if I regularly give you jam and never get jars back, you’ll notice you stop getting it, or you get it in old pickle jars that may or may not still smell like pickles.
Okay. Got it? No pickle-jam for you, right? Great. Let’s move on.
Wear old clothes! Those berries are tiny and they will be down your shirt, in your pants and under the fine leather straps of your beautiful Merrell sandals faster than you can swear about it.
Grab a pair of clippers and a 5-gallon bucket (mine is always, always) my Pittsburgh Steelers’ bucket, which is perfect since elderberry picking and Steelers’ pre-season fever are simultaneous.
Find your elderberry bush and start snipping them off by the bunch. Take both UNRIPE and RIPE. This combination gives the best tart and sweet and the good pectin. Gently shake them before you toss them into the bucket, then gently shake again before stripping them. This will help reduce the amount of stink bugs, spiders and worms on your berries. Yup.
See how much I love you?
Once you’ve filled your bucket (or two, or three) grab a chair and an empty bucket and a fork.
An elderberry bunch looks like arterial branches but behaves more like knotted hair.
The easiest way to remove the berries is to start at the ends of the arteries and just keep sliding your fork outward. They’ll fly everywhere (such as into your shoe from time to time) but it’s fast and easy.
You’ll get into a zone and can have great conversations if you do this with a friend. Of course, if your buddy is a dog you may still have great conversation but the work won’t get done any faster.
If you don’t start at the end and work your way in, chances are you’ll lop off a few ends with your fork. Just pick them out and strip the berries.Some people choose to juice their elderberries with the stems on. I think that’s lazy and
shows a lack of basic respect for the people eating your jelly or jam or just no pride in what you’re making. I mean, really…what’s the point of making it if you aren’t going to do it “right?” That said, you don’t have to be completely OCD about it either, as I often am.
The difference is the ratio of stems to berries. If you have a lot of stems and leaves still attached when you juice, it’s a noticeable taste difference in the juice. It makes it much more bitter.
Elderberry juice should be tart & mouth-puckering but not bitter and dirty tasting.
Once you’ve separated the berries, rinse them (bit by bit if you don’t have a big enough strainer). Make sure to pluck out any remaining stink bugs, spiders, worms and other bugs to avoid harmless but gross surprises for people eating your jelly later.
Put them in the fridge for later use. Don’t freeze at this point. If you want to freeze for later (which I sometimes do) wait until after you’ve juiced them, then freeze the juice in measured quantities.