New Recipe for Elderberry Jelly

We made some elderberry jelly this year and this time we used a slightly different recipe. We’ll have a taste-test or two on the upcoming weekends, so we’ll comment back when the consensus is in. From the initial sampling, we can say that both recipes are delicious.

The elderberries ripen around the middle of August here in central Pennsylvania. Clusters were cut from four plants with scissors and dropped into a 5 gallon bucket. Other folks have commented that the hot weather hit some of the berries really hard this summer or that the birds beat them to the elderberries. We are lucky to know of a spot where the elders grow next to a small stream. Evidently, they weren’t bothered by the extremely hot summer weather.

The elderberries were twisted off their clusters into large bowl. A cup at a time was measured into metal bowl with a flat bottom and then crushed with a potato masher. To keep track of how many cups were processed so far, a single berry was placed on the counter in one spot each time a cup of berries was transferred to the mashing pot.


Bowls of elderberries during processing to make jelly.
The large bowl on the right contains wild elderberries that were transferred to the bowl on the left for mashing, one cup at a time. The mash and elderberry juice were poured into the cooking pot at the top of the photo, taken 16 Aug 2011. Loose berries on the counter, at the bottom of the photo, indicate that 5 cups of berries were processed so far.

It was more of a curiosity to know how many cups of elderberries were processed. If we were a little shy of the quantity of juice needed for the recipe, we could make up the difference with whatever fruit juice was in the refrigerator at the time. It’s worked just fine in the past by using up to 1/2 cup apple-raspberry juice to get the total juice volume with no effect on taste, as far as we could tell. We had 12 cups of elderberries.

The mashed berries were poured into large cooking pot. The heat was turned on to bring it to a boil and then simmered for 10 minutes, covered.

The warm mash was taken off the heat and spooned onto dampened cheesecloth, three layers thick that had been laid cross-wise across the bottom of a large bowl. The ends of the cheesecloth were pulled up to retain the seeds and pulp and to allow juice to drip out into the large bowl. The ends were tied together and hung from the cupboard with a clothes hanger, rubber-band and clip. The juice was allowed to drip from the cheesecloth for a couple of hours, although most of the dripping was done in the first hour.

The elderberry seeds and pulp that were retained by the cheesecloth were spread in an area where it would be nice to have elders grow.

Elderberry juice was measured into a large cooking pot, 3 1/2 cups, and 1/4 cup lemon juice was added. The package of pectin was gradually stirred in and the mixture heated to a rapid boil. The measured sugar was added and brought back to a rapid boil for one minute. The jelly was taken off the heat and ladled into hot jelly jars using a funnel. We made six 8 oz. jelly jars full.

A couple of things were different this time compared to other years when we’ve made elderberry jelly. We hadn’t heated the mashed berries before straining out the seeds when making this jelly before. This extra step probably isn’t necessary, but we wanted to try it out. When the elderberry juice and pectin are cooked, and when the sugar is added and the mixture is continuing to cook, that is probably enough cooking to bring out the elderberry flavor.

The old elderberry jelly recipe used 3 3/4 c. unheated juice, a box of pectin, and 4 1/2 c sugar. Without pre-cooking the mash, 8 cups of berries made 3 cups of juice. For the last 1/2 to 3/4 cup the cheesecloth bag was pressed to expel the last bit of juice.

The new recipe used 3 1/2 c simmered juice, 1/4 c. lemon juice, a box of pectin, and 4 1/2 c sugar. So, simmering the mash before straining the seeds and adding lemon juice were the changes from the old recipe. Our 12 cups of berries made 3 3/4 cup juice and no pressing of the cheesecloth was necessary.

We’ll have to have a taste-test with the elderberry jelly we’ve made before. Good thing we made two batches last year – there’s still a few jars in the pantry.

Will the lemon juice make a difference? The acid of the lemon juice is supposed to help the gelling process. Each time we’ve made it, we’ve used a package of commercial pectin and had no problems with the jelly setting. Indeed, the elderberry jelly we’ve made has always turned out a little stiff compared to other jellies.

What effect will simmering the berry mash before the juice collection have? With the old recipe we mashed the elderberries and right away hung up the mash to collect the juice. The juice from this batch of jelly was cooked a lot more and may be stronger tasting because some water evaporated when the mash was still warm from simmering.

So far, we’re not sure if the new recipe or the old recipe will win the contest, but we’re looking forward to your input. Does everyone use lemon juice and pre-cook the elderberry mash?


2 thoughts on “New Recipe for Elderberry Jelly”

  1. An angel food cake comb is not a bad tool for removing fresh berries from the stems. But we have found a better way to handle the job of plucking the berries. We freeze them and they fall right off the stems. There is also the added benefit of buying some time if you cannot make jelly right away.

  2. Hi Valerie,
    I’ve made plenty of angel food cakes, but I never used an angel food cake comb for cutting one. Perhaps any comb would work ok. I’m thinking a hair pick style of comb would work great to remove the berries.

    I like the idea of freezing elderberries. Your comment about ‘buying some time’ is great! The next year we have a bumper crop I know that we’ll be freezing some.

    Thanks for your tips!

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