Jelly isn’t much in style these days, I’ve noticed. Many people consider it too sweet, otherwise bland, and nearly devoid of nutritional value. I feel that way about many kinds of jelly myself. Who would choose strawberry jelly over strawberry jam, raspberry jelly over raspberry jam? Why throw out all of the fruit’s fiber and sacrifice the appealing texture that fiber provides?
Some fruits, though, are too fibrous or seedy for a mashed jam. When they also have high levels of pectin and acid, they are perfect for jelly. Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, is one of these fruits.* I love the dark, tart, spicy jelly I make from the Oregon grapes growing beneath the bigleaf maple near our chicken house.
Still, some people would always choose a jar labeled jam over one labeled jelly. So, last summer, for the first time, I decided to try making Oregon grape jam. Because Oregon grapes are seedy—a quarter of the weight of each berry is in its three seeds—I decided I would strain out the seeds, but I would still include some of the fiber that distinguishes a jam from a jelly. Because Oregon grapes are so rich in pectin, I would add a little liquor to soften the jam. Here is my recipe.
Seedless Oregon Grape Jam
3 pounds (about 9 cups) stemmed Oregon grapes
About 1 quart water
5 to 6 cups sugar
2 tablespoons brandy or orange liqueur
In a large saucepan, combine the Oregon grapes and enough water to cover them. Cover the pan, and boil the berries gently, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Crush the berries with a potato masher or other tool, and then boil them gently, uncovered, for 10 minutes more.
Press the berries and their liquid through the fine screen of a food mill or through a strainer, leaving the seeds behind. Measure the purée; you should have 5 to 6 cups. Put the purée into a preserving pan along with the same volume of sugar. Heat the mixture, stirring, over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, and then raise the heat to medium-high. Boil the mixture until it “sheets” from a spoon or until the temperature reaches 218 degrees F. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the brandy or liqueur.
Ladle the jam into sterilized pint or half-pint mason jars. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath.
Makes about 4 pints
Making Oregon grape jam is slightly more work than making Oregon grape jelly, since the latter requires only dripping, not pressing. The result really isn’t much different; both the jelly and the jam turn out opaque, smooth, and richly flavored.
You could vary this recipe by adding spices—a stick of cinnamon, for example—or using another sort of liquor (I used my sister’s homemade liqueur of rosemary and Meyer lemon). If it’s a truly rough texture you want, you could include some or all of the seeds.
*Mahonia nervosa, also known as Oregon grape, is a related, shorter species with similar berries that can be used in the same ways as those of Mahonia aquifolia—in jellies, jams, pies, and wine.