Dandelion jelly is spring in a jar. If you haven't tried making it, you should add it to your list of fun spring projects.
Before I developed an interest in canning, I explored a few recipes and refrigerated them instead. You'll see this sometimes, a smaller recipe that calls for refrigerating or freezing the finished product. It's like canning without the worry or production line volume.My first foray was a very nice strawberry and rhubarb jam. It was so delicious, looked so wonderful, and was so easy to make that it gave me some real enthusiasm for the whole canning thing, which isn't nearly as scary as it seems at first.
I followed that success by making dandelion jelly the following spring. This amazing little jelly tastes gently of honey and plays well with melted butter on a roll or cornbread muffin. I originally discovered the recipe in one of those stapled booklets housewives used to get as free giveaways in food packaging during the 1930s and 1940s. You know the ones. The booklet was my grandmothers. I think it was about the size of my palm and shaped like a jar lid. Unfortunately, it disappeared in a move across country a decade ago, but the recipe lives on in handwritten form on a note card I saved inside an old photo album of all places. After a little exploring, I discovered that it also survives in numerous online incarnations.
Why This One's a Keeper
Since it's that time of year, I thought I'd share my take on basic dandelion jelly using this recipe. It's a good starter project. You don't typically find dandelion jelly at the corner market. It's nostalgic and unique, and the process of preparing it is almost as much fun as the jelly is appealing. Think of the project as a test run to see if making jelly (jams, pickles, bulk salsa and other goodies) appeals to you.
Another nice thing is that you can easily gather the main ingredient (dandelions) on a mild spring morning, which always feels like harvesting strewn sunshine in a basket -- a nice way to start the day whether you're making jam or not. (The old recipe recommends waiting for the morning dew to evaporate from the blossoms.)
If you like to cook and haven't prepared jelly before, a walk down the canning aisle of your grocery store can be an enlightening experience, too. Besides pectin (the gelling agent), you'll find special spices, salts, jars, lids, tools and all manner of fun stuff you may not have explored before.
Dandelion Jelly Recipe
- 6 cups dandelion blossoms
- 8 cups filtered water (see note)
- 1 package (1-3/4 oz.) dry fruit pectin
- 2 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 5 1/2 cups sugar
- 20 drops food coloring, yellow or green (optional)
- A non-reactive pan
Special Note: The original recipe called for rain water too (which is naturally soft and used to be relatively pure). If you want to try using rainwater today, though, be sure to wait for a heavy rain, and only harvest the water after an hour or so when much of the suspended dust and pollution has been scoured away and won't taint the water you'll be harvesting.)
- After harvesting wholesome (not pesticide ridden) dandelion blossoms, rinse them in cold water and drain them well.
- Snip off the green receptacle collar at the base of the stem. You'll be left with a profusion of narrow, tufty yellow petals. You'll need at least 2 tightly packed cups of petals. (When foraging, choose the largest blossoms you can to make the job go faster.)
- Combine water and petals in a non-reactive pan (like glass, stainless steel or enamel), and bring it to rolling boil.
- Continue boiling for 5 minutes. You'll see the water turn a yellowish green color.
- Pour the mixture through a strainer in which you've placed three or four layers of cheesecloth. (If the liquid is still somewhat cloudy after being strained, you can strain it again through a coffee filter. This is an aesthetic consideration only. It all tastes good.)
- Retain 3 cups of the liquid and discard any remainder with the spent flower petals.
- Add the liquid, fruit pectin and lemon juice to a non-reactive pan and stir.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and add sugar, stirring constantly. Keep boiling (and stirring) for 2-1/2 minutes, skimming off any foam.
- Check the color. It could be light yellow, or even somewhat green. For a more vibrant product, you can add food coloring now or leave it as it is.
- *Pour the mixture into sterilized half-pint jars, attach sterilized lids and finish off in a water bath.
Tips and Notes on Making Dandelion Jelly
*Okay, this is the part where I lose most folks. I won't discuss the finer points of the sterilization process beyond saying that it's not as hard as it sounds. Once you've done it once, you'll be surprised at how powerfully competent you'll feel. It only takes a couple of projects to become an old hand at it.
For good information on how the water bath thing works, visit:
- How to Process Food in a Boiling Water Bath (a slide show presentation)
- Steps for Processing Jams and Jellies (University of Georgia Cooperative Extension)
There's also another option if you're not ready to get into hot water canning. You can always make a fraction of the recipe and keep it in the fridge. You can find an abbreviated recipe in a nice article from the Urban Forager at The New York Times: Dandelion Wine? No, Jelly. A batch of dandelion jelly will last around three weeks in the fridge.
The recipe above will fill about 7 half-pint jars.