Elenoreís Scrumptious Jam and Jellies

As told by Elenore McMullen to Luba Anahonak

The berries donít usually ripen until the latter part of July or even later, sometime in August, the first of August. Mid-August is usually when the peak of berry picking happens. If we wait any later, we have our rains, like monsoon rains practically. They ruin the berries.

The berries lose their flavor, they lose their consistency. They become swollen and watery. It varies, it depends on how much rain and how much sunshine, what the season has been like.

You go out and check your neighborhood, your berry picking areas and determine when the berries are just right. You donít want to pick the berries when theyíre green and you donít have the full flavor. You donít want them watery.

My favorite places are gone. I didnít pick many berries this year or last year. The state was renovating or working on the airstrip here and right below my house was the most beautiful blueberry patch. The entire area was nothing but a mass of blueberries. There was enough blueberries for the entire village. Now thereís nothing, there isnít one berry left. You know this year and last year I wasnít able to find one berry.

We had salmonberries, and blueberries and high bush cranberries, and mossberries all in that little area. Well, those berry bushes have all been pushed out. Thereís nothing. Back in the meadow, behind Barbaraís tent, B.I.A. and P.H.S. construction has been going on. All that has been wiped out. That used to be one beautiful berry patch. Thatís no longer there. So next year Iím going to have to find some place else to go berry picking.

High bush cranberries used for jams and jellies

Elenore McMullen and Luba Anahonak eating high bush cranberries

I have gone up the bay to pick berries in various spots. Thereís a lot of berries throughout the entire bay here but you have to go a distance. When youíre working, seems like you donít have the time to go out and go very far from home. If a person has a chance to do it, berry picking is really a good way to relax and rest.

There is quite a lot of difference between jam and jellies. When I make jam I usually cook the whole berry and leave the whole berry in. I donít strain any part of it. The seeds are left in after I have washed and hulled them. They are left in and not removed from the jam. This is jam. When you go into a store, you look at a jar of jam, youíll see the berries, some of them are whole and pretty and have seeds in them.

With jelly, I strain it, I run it through a cheese cloth. I cook the berries for awhile until I feel like all the juices and stuff have been separated from the pulp. Then I put a piece of cheese cloth in my colander and let it drain on itís own. If you want a clear jelly, you just let all the juice drip out. If youíre in a hurry, you can take it and squeeze it and work it out, but then you get some little sediments and get a little cloudy, with a little bulk to it.

The types of berries I pick are usually salmonberries. Now Salmonberries have lots of seeds in them and I usually make jelly out of them or syrup for pancakes. The reason I say that is sometimes my jelly fails and I end up with syrup! With blueberries, I usually like to make jam. I think the more pulp the berry has in it, the better it tastes. Once in awhile I make jelly thatís pretty and nice but most of the time I make jam out of blueberries. I use high-bush cranberries, too. They make the best jelly for home made bread or sour dough bread. Nothing finer can go on top of it to compliment the bread than the high bush cranberry jelly. I also use mossberries. You have to spend hours picking and as youíre picking them, you should pick them clean. If youíre not careful, youíll have stems, leaves and twigs in your quart of berries or half quart of berries. You can pick them in an entire day or several days, because they are so small. Thatís one berry that all youíd add is sugar. You donít add any pectin or sure jell of any kind. They make their own jell. You cook it down with just a tiny bit of water so it doesnít burn. Cook it down carefully. Thatís one thing when youíre making jelly youíve got to be real careful of scorching.

Luba Anahonal holding high bush cranberries.

Wild Strawberry Plant

My grandmother used to make a jelly of salmonberries. She liked to let it cook all day long. But she had it kind of scorched, just a little bit. The sugar scorched a little, gave it a little different flavor. It was really good.

I have my own raspberries that I planted out here. I grow my own raspberries and they make a good jelly. This year is the first time I got so many jars of jelly out of raspberries. Raspberries I make into jelly, because theyíre full of seeds.

The black currants and the red currants, now the red currants, you find along the beach, usually I go across the bay. Iíll go the whole length of the bay practically, looking for red currants. They are real small, sour red berries. Not as sour as a high bush cranberries, but real tart. Usually when I want to make currant jelly Iíll find those. Sometimes when I donít bet enough then Iíll mix them or throw them in the freezer, then mix them with something else later. Theyíre usually the first berries to ripen.

The black currant is the same way. They ripen earlier than the salmon berries or the other berries. The black currant is another one of those berries like the mossberry. You donít have to add pectin or sure jell to make it thicker. Itís usually cooked and made into jam. I never take the time. You spend so much time taking the little blossom tip and stem off you lose interest in making jelly with it. You just want to throw it together and make jam out of it. Itís different tasting, much different from the blueberries or the salmonberries.

Iíll give you a recipe for blueberry jam. My blueberries, I stem them and wash them off. I usually take five, six or seven cups, usually five cups of blueberry juice. This is the juice of the blueberries. I cook them and as I make my jam I measure it out, measure the juices out or the pulp with the berries, depends on what youíre making, jam or jelly. I usually make it with blueberries the same. I take five cups of blueberries, seven cups of sugar, I bring these two to a pretty hard boil, Iím stirring this constantly. You have to be very very careful of it burning or scorching. I stir it and boil it for five minutes. Then I add my pectin. Whether I am using Sure Jell or anything you want to use. I usually use one package and a squeeze of lemon juice. I boil that another five minutes. I have paraffin and my jars, the jars Iím going to put my jelly in are all washed and scalded and the paraffin, is wax, all melted. Now that you have to be very careful melting paraffin. It burns and scorches too, so I melt that at a low temperature. I have hat all ready. After youíve boiled the jelly for five minutes, you turn the heat up and skim off all the foam on top. Thereís going to be white foam or whatever on top of the jam or jelly. You donít want to leave that on there, because when you go to seal it with the paraffin itís bring to interfere with the sealing of your berries. That doesnít really taste that good anyway, I give it to the chickens. I pour it in the jars. Right after I put my hot jelly into the jars, I put my jars in a baking pan. In case one of the jars broke itís not going to run all over you and splatter all over you so itís kind of a protection for myself. Then I pour the wax, on top of that. The melted wax doesnít sink to the bottom. It comes to the surface and says and it seals it. I usually put a quarter of an inch of wax over the top, let it cool and put it away. You need a large kettle, I usually have a Dutch oven, I think thatís like eight quarts or six quarts. I usually cook only five cups of berry juice and seven cups of sugar at a time.I donít like to use a larger amount. Then I have problems of boiling over or having too much to look after. Thatís a good size to take care of. It doesnít take very long to do it anyway. You can repeat it just as fast as you can.

With salmon berries itís the same way. Only with salmon berries, if I use five cups salmonberry juice, I use nine cups of sugar and two packages of pectin. You need more the same way with cranberries.

With high bush cranberries, you need more sugar and more pectin. Theyíre tarter and they require more sugar to sweeten. Cook them the same length of time period. Boil them for five minutes before you add sugar and berry juice and five minutes after you add pectin. It all works out just fine. Itís just a formula that I worked out myself and itís worked out really good.

The utensils are my six-quart pan, a large spoon to stir with, and your jars youíre going to use your measuri9ng cup for sugar. I have everything ready. I have my sugar right there, my lemon juice, my jars, I get this all ready before I cook. Once you start boiling that jelly or jam you donít want to leave it because it might get scorched and that could possibly ruin the whole thing. So I have everything handy within armís reach. I donít have to leave to go anywhere. If someoneís calling me on the C.B., I will not leave my jam to go answer it. No way.

I pre-cook the berries until they fall apart, whether Iím cooking jam or jelly. Sometimes I have to mash them. The blueberries I mash, if Iím going to make either jam or jelly. I take the potato masher after I get the berries heated through pretty well and starting to boil, then I run the masher through. Same way with the cranberries. I boil them real hard five minutes, ten minutes, you can use your own judgment. After Iíve added all the ingredients, I boil it only for five minutes. I donít boil it under five minutes or over five minutes, maybe a minute or two thatís all I cook it. If Iím making strawberry jam, I use equal amounts and also boil for five minutes. Equal amounts of berries and sugar. I never use pectin.

First you go out and pick your berries and have them stemmed and cleaned and washed. You bring your berries home and get them washed up. You can cook them on the same day you picked them or you can set them in the refrigerator covered up for a day. I never like to leave them more than a day cause I feel like Iím losing some flavor and they start wilting. When I donít have time to cook them I freeze them. Rather than leave them in the refrigerator and if I donít have the time or pressed for time, then I freeze them in the freezer. Iíve had berries sit in the freezer for a year and cook them up for jam and remember, I havenít gotten around to them. Finally I got it done and they turned out fine. Maybe I always feel like some little flavor was lost but basically they look the same, look pretty well. I have them covered up in a plastic container, frozen pretty well.

 

I had a friend in Seward last year send me some high bush cranberries. She knew I liked high bush cranberries called qalakuaqs. I never did get around to cooking them and making jelly. So I stuck them in the freezer. So I though Iíd cook them up for Thanksgiving. They make a good sauce. You can do all kinds of things with cranberries. So I never got around to it until this Spring. I was out of cranberry jelly and I wanted some with home made bread. I like it with sour dough bread, too. So I remembered I had those cranberries and I cooked them up. They were just perfectly round little red berries and I stuck them in my pot and cooked them up and they made a perfect jelly.

 

Blueberries are the same way. Salmonberries you can freeze them, but theyíre not to eat on your table. Just to thaw them out and eat them, they get real squishy and squashy. You can cook them up and make jelly. Thatís the only way I prepared berries for cooking later on. Iíve never canned them. Iíve made them into jam and jelly immediately after Iíve picked them or else just frozen them until I had the time.

 

Iím just experimenting. When I lived on the farm in Iowa, I knew nothing about canning and preserving berries. My mother-in-law taught me. Just by making a lot of mistakes I finally worked out a recipe I think that works. The five cups of juice, whatev3er youíre using, seven cups of sugar or nine cups of sugar and the pectin, I finally worked that out myself and found it works pretty well. So I never changed or strayed from that.

 

The only time I use equal amounts is when I use the mossberries. If I have one cup of mossberries I use one cup of sugar. If I have one cup of strawberries I use one cup of sugar. If I have five cups I use five cups of sugar. I use equal amounts there. The raspberries are like the blueberries. I use five and seven there. Five cups berries and seven cups of sugar and then one pectin.

 

Sometimes while Iím cooking it, if it just doesnít look right I usually take a little bit of juice and let it set in the spoon Iím stirring with or in another spoon and it will jell just a tiny bit. Then I know itís going to be just right. If Iím not happy with it, Iíll add just a little bit more pectin. I usually try to keep dried sure jell or something around that I could take small amounts of, but use it up before long. You experiment and youíll find out what you can work with. You really enjoy it, because itís something you can be proud of. If you seal it with paraffin real good and store it away where itís not too warm and exposed youíll have something you can enjoy all year long. Sometimes I have jelly sitting for 2 or 3 years before I finally use it up. Itís still perfectly good because you cooked it up and preserved it well.

 

Well, lots of failure to start with. I had lots of failures with jelly. For my first year or so with making jelly, I had lots of syrup for pancakes, but you know I found out that if I took that syrup and cooked it over again and added more sugar and added more pectin, I had beautiful jam or jelly afterwards. But itís just taking the time to do it. There really isnít that much time involved in doing it, just getting around to do it. Another thing is, if you donít have enough wax to pour over your jar, or the seal is broken, youíll lose your jar of jelly. Itíll mold, itíll sour or itíll ferment. After I pour the wax over I usually take saran wrap or wax paper or any kind of paper and have a rubber band and place that over my jar to protect that from coming loose.

 

With rhubarb, I use it in sauce or jam combined with strawberries. I use 4 cups of juice and 7 cups of sugar.

 

I also use berries in muffins, pies and cakes. Berries, frozen or thawed make good snacks with sugar on them or without sugar on them. I love frozen blueberries to snack on without sugar.

 

Copyright 1981,Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.All rights reserved

Volume 2