Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fireweed Jelly

If you don't know what fireweed is, you clearly don't live in Alaska. That's ok, you are still a good person...just not as cool as me.

Fireweed is a "weed" that grows plentifully here in Alaska. It is known for growing in the Northern Hemisphere in open fields, lots of light and especially where a fire has burned as it has no competition and thrives in that environment. Read more on Wikipedia.

This is a lovely close up shot of what a field of fireweed looks like. Photo credit, thank you.

This is a great pic from USGS from the air. You can see how the firweed will take over an area that was taken out by fire.

I have had to develop my own recipe for my Fireweed Jelly because I use only Pomona's Pectin now. I am a complete convert. I read someplace today in all of my research that the store bought pectins are sugar triggered and Pomona is calcium triggered. What I like best is I have never had a Pomona batch not set up. You can even double batches with no worry. only need about 1/2-3/4 tsp of pectin per cup of juice or berries when making jam or jelly. So just a little box of pectin will go a long way. If you are anything like me, you will soon be buying a pound or half pound of it to last you years and years. It also comes with the necessary calcium powder. You make a small batch of calcium water and add your water to your juice or fruit mash. The calcium to water ratio is 1/2 tsp of calcium to 1/2 cup of water. This stays good in your fridge all summer...NOT all year. I learned this in 2014 the hard way.

I made 6 different batches of fireweed jelly today, all a little different. I made 3 spiced batches and 3 not spiced batches. Spiced, meaning, I added cinnamon and nutmeg. Two of my kids prefer this most. One of my kids loves it plain best and the rest of us love them both. We have found that the "traditional" recipes with lots of sugar and the store bought pectin doesn't taste nearly as good as the kind we made with about 1/2 the sugar. You can't really taste the flower if you use so much sugar, so just another reason I love the pectin. All of my recipes used about a 1cup juice to 1/2 cup sugar ratio. Some of the lower sugar jams and jellies won't last as long in the fridge, so I used smaller jars this year to avoid mold. I did have some of spoiling with my fireweed/rhubarb jam I made this winter because of the larger jars and low sugar. I'd like to try a honey recipe next as we have bees making us lots of good honey, but so far, this is what I have.

If you are deprived and don't have any Pomona and want to make jelly RIGHT NOW and don't feel like ordering it from them or going to Alaska Mill and Feed in Anchorage and buying some, you can try this recipe. This was my original recipe and has worked for me, but has more sugar than I like and you have to use 2 boxes of Sure Jell. You can add your spices to the sugar too if you want to try it that way. Update on Pomona 2014: my friend said Fred Meyer in Wasilla is carrying it in their health food section. I also found it on Amazon for a premium, Pomona's website sells it at a decent price but they may not ship to Alaska...when I tried ordering from them they told me I had to call them. Azure Standard is by far the cheapest if buying in bulk. I'm putting one pound in my cart now at $41, where on Amazon it was $80 for one pound. Pomona was $50 for a pound. If you're not scarfing down jelly like us, DON'T buy a pound! A one ounce pack will do to start you off.

Gather ye fireweed:

This is a job for kids, if you don't have 6 slaves kids, I'm sorry, I guess you're on your own. (Fortunately you probably don't eat as much jelly as 6 kids who are addicted to PBnJs so you won't need as much.)

One gallon of fireweed blossoms. Or 8 cups (1/2 gallon) of packed blossoms. Rinse, drain, put into a large pot. Fill almost up to the top of blossoms with water. Look out, these blossoms are like Cheerios, they float, so don't put in too much water.

Color tip: I have not yet confirmed this, but today someone said that if you add your lemon juice to the flowers you won't end up with brown juice (sometimes the juice looks more brown than purple). So you could try that and let me know.

Now, put your pot to boil but don't walk away. You don't want this overcooking, your tea/juice can turn bitter if left too long so let it come to a boil, stir it for a sec to be sure your flowers are drained of their color & remove from heat. Strain (I use a paper towel under a sieve). You will have a purple juice. Each batch is a bit different color. Some darker, some lighter, but all very pretty.

Time tip: The last two years I didn't have time to make jelly the day the kids picked the blossoms. So I filled up my 1/2 gallon jars to the very tippy top and put on an un-used jar lid. It sealed with the hot juice and I poped it into the fridge. What I made today was a week old but in a sealed and refrigerated jar. I also made the kids pick again today so I managed to get another 8 cups of juice today to make a total of 14 pints of fireweed juice total.

Gather ye ingredients:

In the jelly making grand scheme of things, this one is really simple. You need:
-fireweed tea/juice, my recipes use 4 cup juice measurements so if you need to add a tad of water to make that much, that's probably ok.
-lemon juice
-calcium water (only if using Pomona pectin)
-Pomona Pectin
-cinnamon (opt)
-nutmeg (opt)
-sugar cookies (for sustenance)
-watermelon (no, you don't really need one)
-coffee (not pictured, this is for you to drink, jeez, it's not coffee jelly)

Here are all of your needed ingredients sans the spices (and coffee). I'm using Tattler lids for some of my jars.
I'm going to assume you have basic knowledge of canning jelly/jam. If you don't please do yourself a HUGE favor and buy the "Ball Blue Book" for canning. This is a must for any canner and is not expensive.

9:38pm house is WARM! No AC for us tough Alaskans.

So thankful for my screen door and the nice cross breeze we get.
Fireweed recipe #1 - plain:

(Today this was Batch #5, it set up the best over all, this is being updated the day after the original post was made. The only difference I see is the other plain batches didn't have enough calcium water.)

4 c fireweed juice
1/4 c lemon juice (1T per cup juice)
4 tsp calcium water (about 1tsp per cup juice)
-bring these to a boil in a large pot-

In a separate bowl whisk:
2 1/2 cups sugar (you can change this as you please, with Pomona you can use honey also)
3 tsp pectin

When juice is boiling add the sugar and pectin mix, stir vigorously while everything dissolves. 
Return to a boil. Remove from heat (Don't over boil at this point, this is the difference with the pectins.)

Ladle into hot jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

Here's a good picture of the plain jelly and the color you get. The spiced will be more brown in color.

Fireweed recipe #2 - spiced:

4 c fireweed juice
1/4 c lemon juice
4 tsp calcium water (this batch also had the correct ratio on calcium and set nicely)
-bring these to a boil in a large pot-

In a separate bowl whisk:
2 cups sugar (this is 1/2 cup less than batch #1)
3 tsp pectin
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon (cinnamon is good for you, did you know that?!, this is an easy way to get it into your diet)

When juice is boiling add the sugar, pectin, and spice mix, stir vigorously while everything dissolves. 
Return to a boil. Remove from heat.

Ladle into hot jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

16 pints of jelly from 14 pints of juice/tea. 6 batches later.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor, you deserve it.
Oh, yeah, and today we also canned 14 half pints of smoked Alaskan red salmon. Fortunately, hubby did all that prep work and I just manned the canner. Yum.

Sat. 7/12/2014: Note taking on here for my own record...easier to find this than a recipe. We ran out of the fireweed jelly about a month ago. Two of my kids will eat no other kinds unless we are completely out of fireweed jelly, then they'd prefer not to eat PBnJs. I decided to make much more. Tonight, I told the 4 younger kids they could have ice cream if they each brought me a gallon of flowers. I ended up with 2 nice full gallons semi-packed and to each gallon I added about 3 quarts of water and cooked them in separate pots. It's late so I can't make jelly tonight, but I now have 3 one half gallon jars filled to the brim with the beautiful purple juice. I'll put those in the fridge after they are cool in the morning. One child still owes me a bucket of blooms, so hopefully I can get another 8 cups of juice made tomorrow. Our neighbor expressed interest in buying some jelly when she saw my kids picking on the road. I may end up selling some since I'll have extra. We shall see.
Sun. 7/13/2014: Got another gallon of blossoms today and made 8 more cups of juice. Checked my math and last year I had 14pints of juice, that equals 28 cups that equals 1gal and 3 quarts. I currently only have 2 gallons of juice made for this year, guess I will need much more if I want to make extra jelly. Our goat, Elka, kidded today. She had one boy one day before she was due. They're doing well.
Mon. 7/14/2014: Hired the neighbor girls to pick 4 gallons of blooms, they PACKED them so full I had to use a gallon of water instead of a half gallon to extract the juice. I ended up giving 2 gallons of blooms to my sister because I was running out of pectin and realized that I would have 4 gallons of juice to use with what I had. Did one whole gallon of juice for my first batch and used last years calcium water...bad choice. Should have not done so much in one pot, also should have made new calcium water. Had to re-batch the whole thing, none of it set up.
Wed. 7/16/2014: Made 2 more batches  (I'm doing 8cups at a time for one of my batches this year, this works great! just double the recipe) I'm starting to run out of jars.
Sat. 7/19/2014: Finished using all of the tea, made the last 2 batches today and re-batched the rest of the non-set jelly. Final count was 36 1/2 pints total (with 4 gallons that would be 32 pints of juice that I started with, 36 cups of sugar, 16 TBL pectin = 1 cup, 4 cups lemon juice, ~2 cups calcium water). Broken down into 18 pints of plain fireweed and 18 1/2 pints of spiced. That is over double what I did last year. I have already sold one 1/2 pint and given away 2 other 1/2 pints. I followed my recipes that I posted here exactly and they all set up except the one gallon batch using old calcium water.


Cassandra J.B. Schoofs said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I've been scouring the web for a fireweed jelly recipe that doesn't use SOOOOO much sugar...

I <3 Pomona's Pectin! Does Alaska Mill and Feed carry it in bulk? or larger packages?

Thanks again! You rock!

AKmamaOf6 said...


They only sell the small packages (I think) I got my 1/2 pound through our Azure buying club. I'm in the Valley, where about are you? Maybe I could hook you up...are you on facebook? That's where we have most of our info posted for that group.

Cassandra J.B. Schoofs said...

Thanks for getting back to me. My fireweed jelly turned out wonderful! I'm in Anchorage and haven't been able to find Pomona's in bulk yet... I'll look into your buying club on Facebook : ) Thanks again!

AKmamaOf6 said...

Cassandra, somehow I missed this... The name just changed to Fiddleheads Natural Foods Cooperative. You can also buy pectin in bulk direct from Pomona. I just now checked amazon and they also have 1/2 lb packages on there. :)

Tim Todd said...

I missed Fireweed jelly so much I decided to make my own and used your amazing recipe. And thank you for introducing me to Pomona's. You have a wonderful blog.

AKmamaOf6 said...

Thank you, Tim. You're so sweet. My brother started canning a few years ago, it's definitely not just a woman's sport. My husband cans our smoked salmon. I'm so glad you made it and liked it. I'm happy to be finally finished making all of mine this year...36 pints should do the trick.

D Jennings said...

I just wanted to let you know that after seeing your blog about fireweed jelly I decided to try it. This is my 2nd year in Alaska and my first time canning!! I used the spiced fireweed jelly recipe and it came out great!!! Thanks for the inspiration!

AKmamaOf6 said...

D Jennings,

Yay! I'm so happy! We brought all that we had with us when we moved. I may have to make a trip back to AK just to get my fireweed picked and maybe make a batch at my sister's house.

Fortunately we moved right next to a womens monastery (convent) and they make fantastic peach preserves that my kids love. So maybe I can wean them onto peach down here!