I don’t know if the American Psychiatric Association has a list of personality traits for first-born children, but if they do, I’m sure “entitled” would be near the top. My “what’s yours is mine” instinct has led me to appropriate a Miss Piggy doll from my sister, bracelets from my mom, a toothbrush from a college roommate (not my proudest moment), and, on a daily basis, anything on my husband’s plate or in his glass. My commandeering knows no bounds. Case in point: The canning set that my father-in-law received for his birthday last year now resides in my kitchen closet.
Truth be told, he gave it to me after I spent countless hours in my in-laws’ kitchen pickling cucumbers and zucchini from their garden, sealing sour cherries in liqueur, and infusing batches of strawberry jam with lavender. You know you have a canning addiction when you hope that an oncoming hurricane will knock out your power, just so you’ll have an excuse to spend an entire day bellied up to the gas stove, putting things into jars.
Spring and summer are the prime seasons for canners, but I’ve figured out how to get my fix during the off-months with recipes like wine jelly. It only requires the most basic ingredients: sugar, pectin, lemon juice, and wine. Making wine jelly is also a great way to turn a cheap bottle into a luxuriant treat. (Of course if you are willing to sacrifice a nicer bottle, it will only improve the jelly’s taste.) And the Southerner in me loves that it brings an elegant yet personal touch to a cheese board when entertaining.
I know it’s belated, but my next few jars are earmarked as “sorry I stole your Muppet, “sorry I raided your jewelry box,” “sorry I used your toothbrush,” and “sorry I continue to violate your personal table space.” Even if Hallmark had turned those sentiments into cards, something tells me wine jelly says it better.
Most wine jelly recipes have you empty the entire bottle straight into a pot, add sugar, and start cooking. However, in my experience, reducing a portion of the bottle going into the jelly intensifies the wine’s flavor while cutting the booziness. Reducing 1¼ cups down to ⅓ cup can take 20 minutes, so it’s best to get it going first, even though the reduced wine won’t go in until the end.
Sugar plays an important role in jelly making: it helps preserve, set, and flavor the final product. Thinking of cutting back on sweetness? Think again. Dialing it back too much will prevent your jelly from congealing. I started testing by dissolving 3½ cups sugar in the remaining wine on the stovetop. But I felt the sweetness was a bit too much, so I started cutting it back. I was only able to lose ¼ cup sugar before my jelly lost its jiggle.
Some purists shy away from commercial pectin, but since this recipe starts with a bottle of wine, not a plethora of a pectin-rich fruit, it seemed like a hassle to do anything other than rip open a pouch of the liquid stuff. Along with it, I stir in a little lemon juice (for flavor) and a dot of butter. The butter seems weird, but there’s a reason. As the mixture boils, air bubbles rising to the surface create foam. Most recipes require skimming foam (it can cause problems when canning, plus it doesn’t look great), but I found the fat from a little butter allows the bubbles to surface, then disappear.
Lastly, I add the reduced wine to give the jelly a final punch of flavor. The jelly will still be quite fluid at this point, but don’t worry, it will set up perfectly after a little time (you may notice it thickening on the sides of the saucepan or on your spoon).
Transfer your finished wine jelly to jars and let cool to room temperature, then pop them in the fridge. Just remember that sometimes it takes up to 24 hours for the wine mixture to gel and really look like jelly. You just gotta be patient.
Once it’s set, I serve the jelly with a wide range of cheeses, from soft goat to pungent blue, or even smoky idiazabal.