Jams and jellies may seem like distant cousins of wine, but they have lots in common. In fact, jam-making is a fine foundation for the wine connoisseur, because it teaches the taste and smell of fruit; after all, how could you possibly claim your pinot noir had a nose redolent of gooseberries and quince unless you were already familiar with them?
Cooking with wines also helps you get to know the flavour and special qualities of each one. Thus, for the wine fan, wine jellies are a natural. They can fancy up a tray of cheese and crackers (and teach about cheese-and-wine pairings). They can add a wonderful fillip to hors d'oeuvres. And one restaurant industry magazine editor likes to finish meat reductions with a dollop of wine jelly to smooth out the texture and heighten the flavour.
Wine jellies give you license to experiment with taste combinations. Darker red wines are nice with woody herbs like thyme, sage and oregano, as in this recipe using Henry of Pelham Baco Noir. White wines can work well with anything from pumpkin pie spices to lavender. Sweet wines make a good host for hot peppers. But the possibilities are endless.
Here are two basic recipes for wine jellies. If you are adding a flavouring that could stay in the jelly, like very finely minced fresh herbs, then simply add them to the pot along with the other ingredients. If the flavouring comes from something you'll want to remove, like whole peppers or the stalks of dried herbs, tie them into a piece of muslin that can be fished out.
It can be tricky at first to tell when jelly has set. You may drop a spoonful on a chilled saucer; if the surface develops a slight skin that wrinkles when you touch it, it is ready. An alternative is to measure the temperature with a candy thermometer: jelly sets at 220°F. Incidentally, although some alcohol is lost during the boiling process, some remains; how much depends on the boiling time.
If you have never put up food in jars before, you could make one of these fairly small batches and simply keep it in the fridge until it's used up, or you could purchase a box of small canning jars and try processing them.
Wine Jelly with Commercial Liquid Pectin
Makes about 3½ cups
Combine 2 cups of wine and 3½ cups of sugar over medium heat with the flavouring of your choice. Stir well to combine the sugar with the liquids. When the mixture reaches the boiling point, add half of one standard 85 mL pouch of liquid pectin. Continue boiling, stirring continuously, until the mixture reaches the setting point. If you wish to can it, fill hot jars, leaving ¼” of head space,and process for 10 minutes.
Wine Jelly with Apple Pectin
Makes about 2½ cups
Day One: Make apple pectin: Immerse 2½ pounds of roughly chopped apples, including the skins, cores and seeds, in 5 cups of water. Bring them to a boil and let them boil on medium heat until they have broken down into mush (about half an hour). When the mixture is cool enough to handle, allow it to drip through a piece of cheesecloth or clean dishtowel, without squeezing it, until all the liquid has been extracted. (You can lay the cloth over a colander or tie it into a bag and hang it up to drip over a bowl).
If you have time and want to do a really nice job, pour the liquid into a tall container like a one-litre jar and let is sit in the fridge overnight. The next day you can use a turkey baster or pour very carefully to collect the juice without any of the pale sediment that will have settled on the bottom of the jar. You should have about two cups of usable apple pectin.
Day Two: Make the wine jelly: Combine one cup of apple pectin, 1½ cups of wine and 1½ tablespoons of lemon juice over medium heat with the flavouring of your choice. When the mixture reaches the boiling point, add 2¼ cups of sugar and continue boiling, stirring continuously, until the mixture reaches the setting point. If you wish to can it, fill hot jars, leaving ¼” of head space,and process for 10 minutes.
If you're not interested in making wine jelly yourself, keep an eye out the next time you visit a winery gift shop; many make their own or stock small-batch artisanal labels made from local wines: one more way to celebrate Ontario wine!
Sarah B. Hood is a Toronto journalist who has been shortlisted for the National Magazine Awards and the Kenneth R. Wilson business writing awards. Her preserves have won prizes from Canada's Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and the Culinary Historians of Canada. Her latest book is We Sure Can! How Jams and Pickles are Reviving the Lure and Lore of Local Food (Arsenal Pulp Press).