For many people, summertime means weekends at the lake, barbecues, and lazy days by a pool. But for some of us, summer is the time when we practice our skills at putting up preserves, relish, pickles, and other treats from the garden or berry patch.
I grew up helping my Mom make blackberry jelly. The chigger bites, scratches, and purple fingers from picking blackberries were a small price to pay in exchange for having blackberry jelly all winter long. That’s really the magic of preserving the fruits of summer: in the middle of January, you can pop open a jar of farmer’s market salsa or blueberry-lemon verbena jam and the scent takes you back to summer and warm sunshine.
After growing up, I never made jelly on my own. When I moved into a house with grape vines that grew over a walkway arbor, something had to be done with the grapes lest they simply get squished underfoot and attract mosquitos. Being a variety of grapes too tart to simply eat, I decided to relearn how to make jelly.
And that started the madness.
A few years go by, and I’m pretty good at making grape jelly, so I decide to try a few different varieties. I started out with the incredibly easy white zinfandel jelly – a hit in holiday gift baskets. Then I branched out to try jellies made with apple cider, adding autumn spices or fresh thyme and lemon to create some different flavors. Then came trying to make herbal jellies from infusions, such as herb jelly featuring lemon balm and lemon verbena.
One year, I made a rose-glazed lemon cake for Mother’s Day. I thought the flavor combination was wonderful. Not many Americans seem to realize that rose is a common dessert flavoring in some parts of the world, but I had been making rose petal tea for years. So combining my knowledge of the tea and using herbal infusions for jelly combined with the cake as flavor inspiration, I created my first original jelly recipe, which I call Sunshine & Roses. Surprisingly, more people like it than I had anticipated.
In the last two years, I’ve tried strawberry margarita jam, honey Chianti jelly, blueberry-lemon verbena compote and jam, lemon-tangerine jelly, spiced grape jelly, farmer’s market salsa, and spicy dill pickles. Not all of them made the cut – spiced grape didn’t win any fans and the pickles just weren’t anywhere near crisp enough – but it’s always fun to try something new.
Hoping all of you stretch your culinary horizons and try something new and summery before summer is all gone!