A delicious alternative to honey, and vegan friendly!
The batch of dandelion jelly that I produced recently has attracted a little attention, so I thought I'd share the recipe. The original recipe I roughly used can be found here, but the following is what I actually did to produce my batch.
Now, I really ought to say that I use the term "jelly" as loosely as my "jelly" turns out. My aim is for a loose, honey-like gloop rather than something set as firmly as jam. This makes it much easier to stir into teas and to drizzle onto hot buttered crumpets.
First of all, you need to collect the dandelion heads, and you'll need a lot of them in order to glean sufficient petals. You only want to use the petals as the greens will lend a bitter taste that is undesirable in this recipe. I filled a sandwich bag with dandelion heads for this batch, which approximately yielded 3 cups of petals.
I have a policy when picking dandelions to never pick flowers that are occupied by a bug, and to only take 50% in any given area so some are left for the insects. As a herbalist, it is not only our duty to learn how to use plants to sustain our health and wellbeing, but to encourage the health and wellbeing of the plants themselves, and the ecosystems that they are a part of.
It is also important to pick flowers from an area of low-pollution and where no pesticides have been used. Fortunately, a silver lining of the COVID-19 situation is that pollution has dropped a lot, which is wonderful news for foragers, as well as the plants and insects.
Separating the petals from the greens can be a bit of a labour of love, especially after picking so many flowers! My technique is perhaps a little unconventional, but it works for me. I put all the flower heads in cold water which forces the flowers to close. I then use my thumbnail to open the flower head in two halves. You will notice a little line at the base of the petals, which is super easy to cut into with the thumbnail, and then slide the petals out. A word of warning: Dandelions will stain your nail, and any clothing they touch, a murky brown colour. Several days after doing this, and the same number of baths and showers later, the stains are just about coming out of my thumbnail!
Once all your glorious petals are separated, it's time to make the infusion which will form the basis of your jelly.
To do this, pour four cups of boiling water over the petals in a bowl, and cover with a lid or cling film. Leave this to steep overnight.
The original recipe states to refrigerate the steeping petals, but I do not consider this necessary. Nor do I consider it necessary to wait a full 24 hours before going onto the next stage, 12 is sufficient.
Before doing anything with the actual mixture, it is important to prepare how you're going to keep the final product. I personally like to recycle jars, so after thoroughly washing the jars, I put the open jars in a baking dish, and put them in the cool oven which is set to increase to 150°C until I need them. This serves two purposes: Sterilisation, and bringing the glass to a temperature in line with the mixture so that it doesn't shatter with the temperature shock.
Cheesecloth and a sieve are the best tools for straining the infusion from the petals into a large pan. You want to be able to squeeze all the goodness from the petals before discarding. Once complete, you can start to bring the infusion to a boil on the hob. Add a sachet of pectin and two tablespoons of lemon juice, and stir to dissolve all the pectin.
Once the pectin is all dissolved, add four cups of sugar. I like to use organic, unbleached sugar. Stir this in to dissolve, and bring to a boil.
How long this mixture needs to boil depends on the consistency you are trying to achieve. My goal is gloopy, like a loose honey, so I wouldn't boil it down for as long as somebody trying to achieve a true jelly (although more pectin would probably be helpful for this goal also).
One way to keep checking your consistency, is to keep a few teaspoons in the freezer, and to dip them into the mixture quickly. The coldness of the spoon allows the mixture to divulge its current true consistency once cooled. You'll find yourself doing this rather often, if you're anything like me, if only to keep tasting the delicious mixture!
Once you're happy with the consistency, you need to pull your pre-prepared jars out of the oven, and start carefully filling them up. I use a ladle.
Whilst the mixture is still hot, I put the lids on the jars and allow to cool. If you're recycling jars with the little pop-up middles, as the mixture cools, the pop-ups will be drawn back down so you get that satisfying little *pop* as you open the jars for the first time.
How you decorate your jars is up to you, if you even bother at all. Regardless, you will need to keep your jars refrigerated, and use it all up within a couple of months or so - if it lasts that long!