Making Redbud Jelly
I'm pretty new to the amazing world opening up before me that is foraging. It's thrilling to realize how much around us is edible or useful. Here's one of first wild plants I tried- Redbuds. They are a great introduction because Redbud trees are easily identifiable, easy to find, and very abundant in my area.
The Eastern Redbud tree, Cercis canadens, is common along the Eastern half of the country. It's one of the first plants to flower in Early Spring before leaves really come out, making them easy to spot. Redbuds are surprisingly in the legume family and related to Peas.The flowering buds are the edible part and can be eaten raw, dried to save for later, or made into wildflower jelly! The process is very easy and makes for a vibrantly colorful treat.
Before we get started, here's a link to basic info on Redbuds. Make sure you know how to identify any wild edible before you embark on foraging.
I find these trees seem to enjoy growing at the edges of the forest. I am fortunate to have them growing on either side of the drive through our property.
Harvesting the little buds is easy since they grow before leaves fill in. Please be mindful of pollinators though! These are among the first meals for newly awakened bees, so be careful with your hands, and never take all of the blooms from a tree or entire branch. A good rule of thumb for any foraging is to only take up to a third from any plant.
There are many ways to make a jelly. This is the basic recipe that I have come to like.
You will need:
4 cups of Redbud infusion (if you are a little short once you strain all the buds out, just add a little water)
3 Tbs. of low sugar pectin
3 cups of sugar
2 Tbs. of lemon juice
1/2 tsp. of butter or oil to prevent foaming (this is entirely optional. It just makes the process easier)
You will also need canning jars, a decent sized pot for making the jelly, and a pot for canning. Jellies only need a water bath canning method, so if you do not have a canner, any large enough pot will do.
I personally prefer using small, 4 oz. Mason jars. Since homemade jellies are free of preservatives, they can grow mold after being opened quicker than store-bought kinds. The small jar lets me be sure to use it while it's fresh. Also they make cute gifts to share with friends!
Create an infusion by pouring boiling hot water over your Redbuds and let them steep. I just gather mine into a quart sized mason jar, and pour water from the tea kettle until it fills the jar. Cover it, allow to cool, and place in the fridge over night.
Strain the buds from your infused water. The infusion should be a lovely color. Don't waste those buds! You can feed them to your animals as a treat- my hens and rabbits especially enjoy them.
Prepare your canning jars by boiling them in water. Keep them in the boiling water until the moment you are ready to fill them. This ensures they are free of any bacteria, and nice and hot.
Heat the infusion in a pot on the stove. As it is warming, add pectin, lemon juice, and any fat if you are using it. Stir really well. (Note: not all pectin is the same, if you are using a different kind- consult the box)
Bring to a rolling boil and add sugar. Keep stirring and bring it up to a hard boil that can not be stirred down. Hold this boil, stirring constantly until it begins to gel.
Carefully pour this into hot canning jars. Remember you want everything to stay hot. So handle jars with caution. Wipe the rims of the jars to ensure they are squeaky clean, and then place the canning lids on them. I do not boil my lids. It softens the sealant and can weaken it. I do give them a quick wash and dunk in the boiling water right before canning. Take care to not over tighten the bands.
Gently place the still hot jars into a hot water bath. This is something you can do in a canner, or in a pot that is large enough so that the jars are completely submerged under the water by two inches. Canners come with a rack to support jars so they won't crack by bouncing. If you are using a pot, you also should place something in for the jars to sit on. I've boiled mine with a clean dishtowel before I got a canner and it worked out just fine. You do want the bath to be boiling when the jars go in.
Let them bath in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.
Carefully remove jars from bath, and set them somewhere to cool. Do not press on or test the lids. Just let them cool without any disturbance to the seal. Once they are cooling down, you will hear the lid pop as it seals.