Apple Mint Nasturtium Jelly || Hitchhiking to Heaven

Apple Mint Nasturtium Jelly

A few weeks ago, I promised Stewart I’d make leg of lamb for his birthday in May. I’ve got a lot of learning to do, because the only thing I know about preparing leg of lamb is that what you put on it is mint jelly. But the mint jelly part? I’m all over it.

In a happy coincidence, the April Can Jam challenge was herbs, including flowers.  All I had to do was step outside my kitchen door to spot the combination I wanted . . .

My nasturtium wasn’t blooming yet, but a quick trip to Berkeley’s bayside microclimate fixed me right up.

This was my first try at suspending flowers in a jelly. I’d been inspired by a gorgeous photo of rose petal jelly in which the rose petals were delicately lofted and distributed evenly throughout the jar. Of course now I can’t remember where I saw that picture — I may even have dreamed or imagined it. I didn’t have much luck with the even distribution thing. This is how I would grade my efforts on this jelly:

Flavor: A- (It tastes really good, but you’ve always gotta leave some room for improvement, right?)
Jell: A (I couldn’t have wanted a better set.)
Artful suspension of flowers: Um . . . do you see any flowers held delicately aloft in that jar?

I’ll say a little more about my experiment with adding blossoms below, but first, here’s the jelly recipe. I made it by combining a number of sources: the basic mint jelly recipe from the Ball Blue Book, some elements from “Apple Jelly with Rose Petals” from Mes Confitures, and my own ideas about nasturtium — and it works with or without the flowers. For a really nice, simple mint jelly, just leave them out.

Apple Mint Nasturtium Jelly

3 1/2 pounds granny smith apples
6 1/2 cups water, plus 1 cup for mint infusion
1 cup tightly packed mint leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon spearmint extract (optional)
A dozen or so nasturtium flowers

1. Wash the apples and cut them into quarters without peeling or coring. Put them into your heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot and add 6 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer 1/2 hour on low heat. The apples will be soft and pulpy. (I took this poor photo of my apples at night, but I’ll tell you, they were gorgeous. Crisp and bright green without a blemish on them. I’ve learned the hard way that perfect is exactly how you want your apples to be. If they’re not, you’re asking for trouble with flavor and set.)

2. Strain the mixture through a boiled jelly bag or layers of cheesecloth that you’ve doused in boiling water and wrung out. This will take several hours, at least. (Don’t push the mixture through the bag, or you’ll muddy the jelly.) After you have the juice, quickly strain it a second time (again through a scalded, clean jelly bag or cheesecloth) to catch any straggling pulp. Pour the juice into a bowl and refrigerate it overnight.

3. The next day, begin by preparing the mint infusion. Add 1 cup of boiling water to the mint leaves. Steep them for an hour, mushing them every now and again to extract maximum flavor. (When it was ready, I strained my mint infusion through cheesecloth, too, so I could get the clearest jelly possible.)

4. Scooping the apple juice from the top of the bowl to avoid any sediment on the bottom, measure 4 1/2 cups juice into your clean pot. Add 1/2 cup of the mint infusion, the lemon juice, and the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook it to the jelling point.

5. Remove the mixture from the heat and skim off any foam. Immediately ladle the hot jelly into sterilized jars, layering a few nasturtium flowers into the top of each jar so that they’re just covered with a layer of jelly.

5. Seal the jars and process. I left 1/4 inch head space and processed five minutes in a water bath canner. Yielded 4 half-pints.

That’s it for the recipe. But now, about those flowers . . .

What I Learned About Adding Flowers to Jelly

I turned my kitchen into a floral science lab for this month’s Can Jam, and really appreciated the opportunity to play with something brand new. As you can see below, none of my half-pints of jelly look anything alike. To settle on the method I liked best (the one pictured and described above), I tried something different with each jar.

First, I tried to follow the advice from Mes Confitures that suggests you can put flowers or petals into your jars, seal them, then wait until the jelly is almost cool before you gently shake the jars “so the petals distribute themselves attractively.” Not so much. At least not for me. I ended up with a gelatinous clump of unidentifiable flower matter stuck to one side of the jar. I transgressed from “gently shaking” to all manner of disturbing maneuvers, which is how the jar below ended up on its head. It wasn’t pretty.

I also read somewhere that that letting the jelly cool just a little in the pan, adding flowers, and then filling the jar would ruin the texture of the jelly. I confirmed that this is true. The jelly in the jar below is unevenly textured and full of air bubbles. The flowers are visible and they’re somewhat intriguing, but not necessarily appetizing . . .

For me, the winning option was definitely the method I described in the recipe, gently laying the flowers on top of the jelly before sealing the jar and then leaving well enough alone. That means the flowers will be there — surprise! — when you open the lid, but otherwise the jelly looks just like a clear jewel:

Finally, I couldn’t resist doing one jar the old fashioned way: Straight-up mint with no flowers and a tiny drop of green food coloring:

Enough said, though I could have gone on and on taking photos of nasturtium and mint. The colors!

Happy spring!

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  • Reply SarahBHood April 18, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I absolutely love your experiments with the flowers! I wonder whether sugared flowers would work better???

  • Reply Shae April 18, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you, Sarah! I wonder about sugared flowers, too. They might be easier to distribute because they have a little more shape and weight. I have had some success with suspending slivered almonds in jelly using the "let it cool a little and then can it" approach — perhaps because the almonds have more heft. I read a lot of sources before I tried this, but would love to learn more!

  • Reply Julia April 19, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Your photographs are definitely gorgeous; no wonder you couldn't stop taking pictures. I think your idea of nasturtiums with mint sounds really interesting. Do the flowers impart any flavor? Do they give it a peppery kick; or is it just aesthetics?
    Re: suspending stuff, I've heard that gently twisting was the ticket (after processing and cooling for ten minutes), but I'm not sure about that one either. Perhaps it's all in the wrist?

  • Reply Shae April 19, 2010 at 3:35 am

    Ay, Jules! I got so caught up playing with my flowers I forgot to write anything about how they taste. This was definitely a combination inspired by the lamb. (I may not know how to make lamb, but I'm good at eating it, and I thought both flavors would be good with the meat.)

    I can definitely taste the nasturtium — just a little bit of that peppery tart flavor in the jelly. It will be interesting to see what the flowers themselves taste like after a few weeks in the jar. I used a deliberately light hand with the flowers — didn't want to do a nasturtium infusion, for example — because I was wary of muddying the mint that I love so much. I like it this way . . . just a hint, with the mint.

  • Reply leena! April 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Love your idea for this month's Can Jam, and I love cooking leg of lamb even more. It is super easy, so don't worry about messing it up!

    I've never used nasturtiums in cooking before, but if they impart a slightly peppery flavor, I may have to! Thanks for the idea!

  • Reply Lo April 20, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Even the fact that you attempted this lovely project is more than enough for me! Love that you spent the time in the study of suspending those beautiful blooms. Do they stay lovely when kept for a long period? Do you know?

  • Reply Shae April 21, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Leena: Next time you walk past some blooming nasturtiums, grab one from a height where no dog could have peed on it and give it a munch. There's a peppery element, but I think they taste like nothing else, pungent and weird-good. Thanks for the lamb encouragement. Two weeks and counting down!

    Lo: I'm also curious to know how the nasturtiums will do in the jar. I'll learn a little when I pop the top of one for the lamb in a couple of weeks, but in six months? I took assurance from the rose petal jelly recipe that used "raw" rose petals for show, figuring petals are petals and if those work in a preserve meant to be kept for a while, these will, too. We'll see!

    Sarah: You rock! And Alec, too. Thanks so much for this! I will of course overlook the comment about California strawberries, figuring that whatever's boxed up and send to Toronto wouldn't be our berries at their best. We do have local berries coming in now, so I'm keeping my eyes out for just the right ones for this recipe.

  • Reply Paige May 10, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I love the idea of the flowers! I've only been canning for a few years, and am fllowing along, but not an official participant of Tigress' can jam as well! I did strawberry lavender jam for April.

  • Reply Rebecca Rosenberger April 27, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I just LOVE the idea of Apple, Mint, Nasturtium Jelly and I can’t wait to try making some. Your photos are beautiful!!! thank you!

    I grow lots of Nasturtiums as pest control at my farm. They work wornders of keeping many pests away.


    • Reply Shae May 2, 2011 at 9:02 am

      Thanks, Rebecca. The nasturtium flavor in this jelly is subtle, but I liked it very much — it was great with the lamb. Do you find that nasturtiums keep your aphids down? I know they often end up covered in aphids at the end of the season, which gives me the creepy crawlies, but I figure their tender stems and flowers are drawing the pests away from other plants.

  • Reply Sara June 29, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Shae, I am very new to making jam at all, and truly haven’t tried too many recipes. When I have played with them I have never gotten one to set no matter how perfectly I follow the pectin directions. So for jelly you don’t have to use pectin? you just cook it until jelling point? I guess I should do some research! I want to make some rhubarb jam and a mint jelly i thought would be nice. I have both in abundance in my yard!

  • Reply Sara June 29, 2011 at 9:41 am

    well also, is there any way to use less sugar? It’s not that I am scared of sugar, I just feel like it tends to mask my fruit!

    • Reply Shae June 29, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Hi Sara: Yes, if you follow a tested recipe, you can make jelly without added pectin. That’s the traditional (and more labor intensive) way to do it — using very high pectin fruits like tart or unripe apples, or quince when it is in season. In such recipes, you shouldn’t reduce the amount of sugar called for, or your jelly will not set. You need the proper mix of pectin, sugar, and acid (usually lemon juice) to get a good set. If you follow the directions in this post, leaving out the nasturtium, you should get a nice, simple mint jelly. It works very well for me. Just be sure your apples are not overripe. The more they ripen, the less pectin they contain.

      If you want to make jellies with reduced sugar, I recommend the Sure Jell pectin that says on the box it’s for no- or lower-sugar recipes. I use it often, and it’s a good place to start before you move on to another low-sugar pectin like Pomona’s, where it can be a bit trickier to get the right set.

      Good luck and have fun!

  • Reply margo pomeroy August 28, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I made mint jelly today and it did not set. The recipe called for 3C mint infusion, 4C sugar, 1/2tsp lemon juice, 1pkg powdered pectin. I am thinking that 2Tablespoons of lemon juice would be more likely correct. Can I add 2Tablespoons of lemon juice and re boil it all again?

    • Reply Shae August 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      Hi Margo: When I make a jelly with packaged pectin, I rarely vary the instructions in the pectin package insert. I agree with you that the amount of lemon juice sounds like too little, but my gut feeling is that adding more and reboiling isn’t going to get you the set you want. (I rarely have good luck when reprocessing a jelly.) Your best best may be to call it mint syrup and begin anew with a different recipe, but then again, there’s no harm in experimenting to see what will happen. :-)

  • Reply Barbara September 9, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    For anyone who wants to do low sugar or no sugar, use Pomona’s Universal Pectin! I have used for seven years and will not use anything else. It’s an all natural product. It gels well and you can make jams and jellies with half the sugar or even no sugar and even use different sweetners. Honey, agave, maple syrup, stevia. Pomona’s is finally getting noticed – it’s been around for years so now Sure Gel has added a No/Low Sugar option realizing that it’s something we want. Go with Pomona’s the original one! Nice people too.

    I have a question for Margo – have you tried adding mint leaves rather than an herb infusion?

    • Reply Shae September 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm

      Hi Barbara: Thanks for your comment. I rarely add pectin to my jams or jellies, but when I do, it’s usually Pomona’s. (In fact, I used Pomona’s the first time I ever made jam in my life!) You’ll find a number of recipes on this blog that call for it. That said, I don’t love Pomona’s for jellies. I find that it always makes them cloudy. (I think there’s some discussion of that on the post about passion fruit jelly, with someone else who has that same experience.) About Pomona’s in general, though, I agree with you. It’s a great product and a great company.

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