Canning is my summer time obsession. From the first strawberries of spring to the last pears of fall, I spend my weekends putting up my famers market bounty. Then the market closes for the season, I put the canner back in the pantry and shelf the jars for the next year. But at some point, in the dark days of winter, I get the slight canning bug. I don’t particularly see the point of making jams or pickles from grocery-store produce flown in from foreign parts. Then this idea struck me like a thunderbolt, I just had to try it out. I can still find beautiful fragrant mint in winter, and anything with the summery flavor of a cold glass of iced tea is bound to appeal to this Southern girl.
I’ll be honest, I don’t do jelly much, in the summer my canning kitchen is practically a factory, preparing and cooking bushels and pecks of fresh fruits and vegetables, so I tend to go with quicker jams and butters. But when I need a little winter canning fix I don’t mind the extra time of leaving the apples to release their juices overnight.
Sweet Tea Jelly is great on toast or biscuits, and amazing in the center of a thumbprint sugar cookie. But for a little something different, use it as a glaze for chicken wings or a pork roast.
Sweet Tea Jelly
4 tea bags (for iced tea, like orange pekoe)
Big handful of mint leaves
6 cups water
2 ½ lbs golden delicious apples
2 lemons, juiced
4 cups sugar, more or less
½ cup mint leaves, finely chopped
Place the tea bags in a large measuring jug and add a handful of mint leaves. Pour over 4 cups boiling water and leave to brew until dark amber, about 4 minutes. Remove the tea bags and leave to cool.
Cut the apple, peel, core, seeds and everything, into small chunks and place in a large heavy Dutch oven. Pour over the brewed tea with the mint and the remaining 2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes, until the apples have broken down and are soft and mushy. Use a wooden spoon or a potato masher to crush the fruit.
While the apples are cooking, line a sieve with cheesecloth, muslin or a clean 100 % cotton handkerchief and place it over a large bowl. When the apples have cooked and you’ve mashed the fruit, carefully pour everything into the sieve. Leave the pulp to drip juice overnight. Cover the sieve and bowl with a tea towel, but do not press down on the pulp, or you’ll end up with cloudy jelly.
Place a small plate in the freezer to do a set test when the jelly is done.
The next day, discard the pulp and measure the juice produced. You’ll have anywhere from 4 – 6 cups. Pour the juice into a heavy, large Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Stir in the lemon juice and ¾ cup of sugar for every one cup of juice. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the chopped mint leaves. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, about 10 – 15 minutes, until the jelly is thick and streams in a sheet from a spoon lifted out of it.
When the jelly has cooked down and is thickened, pull that little plate out of the freezer and spoon a little jelly onto it. Leave to set for a minute, then tilt the plate. If the jelly stays put, or only runs a little bit, it’s ready to go. Also, run a finger through the jelly on the plate if the two sides stay separate and don’t run back together, you’re good to go.
While your jelly is cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going. Here are step-by step instructions for processing jam in a canner. When the jelly is almost ready, pour some boiling water over the lids to your jars to soften the seals and set aside.
When the jelly has met the set test, fill the jars. I like to ladle the jelly into a large measuring jug for easy pouring. Fill each of your warm, cleaned jars with the jelly, leaving a ½ inch head space. Dry the lids with a clean paper towel and place on the jars. Screw on the bands, then process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you have a bit of extra jelly, scoop it into a refrigerator container and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
When the jars are processed, leave to cool on a towel on the counter.
The processed jars will keep for a year in a cool, dark place. Don’t forget to label your jars!
Makes 3 half-pints, or 5 4-ounce jars