If you grow mint, you know all too well that you don’t grow it, it grows you. I am always searching for recipes that make the most of the plant I seem to have the most of. Yes, there’s mint tea (see my earlier blog). Yes, it’s a happy garnish in sweet summer lemonade and adult beverages. Yes, it makes a naturally fragrant and beautiful bouquet on your picnic table. Yes, a sprig or two can be arranged artfully on a plate of ice cream topped with chocolate-mint sauce. But what else?
My favorite fun use of the chewing-gum herb is making a batch of mint jelly. If you are new to home canning, this is a great recipe to get you started. It’s easy; has just a few ingredients; and, if you avoid the one big mistake I’ll warn you about, should be pretty simple when it comes to clean up.
This particular recipe comes from my time-tested Ball Blue Book of Preserving. It’s sticky, full of asterisks, notes and dog-eared pages, so you know it’s my favorite. The Mint Jelly recipe is pretty straightforward. Just a couple words of advice before you run out to your garden and start clipping mint:
1. Be sure to read the entire recipe so there are no surprises.
2. Have half-pint or quarter-pint glass jelly jars, lids and screw tops ready to go.
3. Use a pot that is at least twice as big as you think you’ll need. (This is the mistake I made that I said I’d warn you about.) When jelly gets to the gel stage, it notoriously foams and bubbles up. The first time I experienced this, I screamed. It was like green lava from a giant kitchen volcano. It leapt over the sides of the pot, onto the stove and down to the floor. Save yourself a giant, sticky clean-up and use a pot that looks way too big. I promise it will be just right.
• 1 cup firmly packed mint leaves
• 1 cup boiling water
• 4 cups apple juice
• 2 tbsp lemon juice
• 3 cups sugar
• 1-2 drops green food coloring
• 5 half-pint jars, lids and rims
1. Bring a basket or bowl out to your garden and snip a few dozen sprigs of mint with a sharp scissors or garden clippers. Give them a quick wash, immersing in water to remove any dirt or bugs.
2. Strip the mint leaves off the stems. Discard stems, unless you can think of a use for them.
3. Put the leaves into a Pyrex® or other heatproof container, pressed down to measure one cup.
4. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and pour over the mint leaves. Inhale deeply and say, awwww. Allow the mint to infuse for 60-90 minutes.
5. Here’s a trick to keep your jelly clear and sparkling: use a coffee filter fitted to a cup or bowl and pour the infused water through the filter.
6. Press the leaves to make ½ cup mint extract. Toss the filter and mint leaves.
7. Fill your boiling-water canner with water deep enough that there will be at least two inches above your filled jars. Put this onto boil first thing. Wash jars, lids and rims in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher. Put only the jars into the boiling-water canner. There is no reason you can’t use the same water to both sterilize the jars before you fill them AND process the jars after they are filled. (Later on, when the water cools, it’s perfect for watering -- maybe give your mint an extra drink as a thank you.)
8. Put the lids (if you are new to canning, these are the round metal pieces with the red-rubber edges) and the rims (the screw-tops) in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. If you want to use one of those handy green plastic filler-funnels, I dunk that in boiling water, too. Basically, anything that’s going to come near the product, I boil the bejeebers out of. My canning utensils could probably be used for surgery.
9. Enough prep. Now it’s time to make your mint jelly. Combine the mint extract, apple and lemon juices in a large pot. Stir to dissolve the sugar into the mixture, and bring to a boil. This will take much longer than you expect because you are watching the kettle, so to speak. When it does come to a boil, just keep stirring and watching as it reaches a solid, rolling boil.
10. Cook to the “gel point”, add one or two drops green food coloring, and remove from the heat. Use a slotted stainless spoon (that you have also dunked in boiling water) to remove the icky foam residue.
Hooray. Now you are ready to can. Remove the hot jars from the canner and put them on two layers of paper towels on the counter next to the jelly pot. Put the canning funnel in one of the jars. I use a plastic, one-cup measuring cup with a handle to dip into the jelly and pour gently into the jar. Fill and leave ¼” headspace. Pick up one of the lids, dry it top and bottom with a clean towel, and thoroughly wipe the rim of the jar. Position the lid on the jar and screw on one of the rims, firmly but not too firmly.
Follow the same steps for all four half-pint jars. You may have a little mixture left. Pour that into the remaining jar. Put on the lid and rim and chill in the refrigerator. It will easily keep a month, but you will eat it up long before then.
Gently lower the other four half-pints into your boiling-water canner and bring to a boil. Here, altitude matters. If you are in a city at sea-level up to 1,000 feet, the processing instructions are for you. In this case, boil your jars of mint jelly for 10 minutes. Check online with your local Extension Service or in any reputable canning book to see how much time you should process your jelly. A general rule of thumb is to add a minute processing time for every 1,000 feet of altitude, but better to be safe and double-check with the wise guys.
Now the exciting part of canning. When the processing time is up, lift your jars out of the canner. Be sure to put a nice, thick towel down on your counter and place the jars one at a time onto the towel. I’ve heard horror stories of jars cracking when they hit a cold counter. I’ve never had it happen, but it’s easy enough to lay down a towel to appease the canning gods. Let the jars sit as you go about cleaning up the kitchen. In a few minutes you’ll start to hear “Ping, Ping, Ping, Ping”, music that announces your jars are officially sealed.
What does mint jelly go with? I don’t eat lamb or veal but I’m told mint jelly is the perfect counterpoint to their rich-savory-salty flavors. I enjoy the refreshing taste of mint jelly served with a quinoa salad, pork entree, or chicken dish. It’s also a glittering emerald palate cleanser between a salad and main course.
You now have four jars of delicious Mint Jelly to use, to give away as special gifts, or to write a blog about… You can read more about my writing and published features … or in archived blogs of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
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