Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Book of Preserves and Making Wine Jellies

It hit me this morning, whilst writing dates on customer orders, that in less than 2 months I'll be heading up to Scotland for a solid couple of weeks of ore wedding prep, and that all the jobs and planning I've been thinking we have loads of time for need some more urgent attention.

This includes making a cake (the cake?) and anything else I want in the way of special jellies or chutneys - the fun bits compared to the list writing and checking prices for things. As a family with a lot of catering experience doing the food ourselves makes a lot of sense, and with proper planning is less stressful, in my view, than relying on caterers. More so in a Covid world where it means we can be much more reactive about how much food we buy. I never imagined planning a wedding around how easy it might be to cancel or adapt due to sickness or potential lockdowns.

The really lovely part of doing it this way is being able to make things I've wanted to try for a while, and so it is with the Sauternes jelly in Pam-the-Jam Corbin's The Book of Preserves. Pam's River Cottage handbook was my first proper introduction to jam making and is still a favourite. In this book, she's gone out of her way to lower the sugar to fruit ratio - although when half the liquid is a sweet wine I'm guessing the actual ratio of sugars is complicated. 

I'm lucky, after a couple of decades in the wine business I have a few bottles of sweet wine hanging around, most bought at rock bottom prices when they were being cleared from supermarket shelves and some that I wasn't too precious about to mind using to make a couple of jars of jelly with. I wouldn't buy a Sauternes to cook with. I don't believe in cooking with a wine I wouldn't drink and would prefer not to spend Sauternes money on something destined to be a condiment.

Happily, I had a bottle of Monbazillac (same grapes, same method, neighbouring areas, slightly more modest price tag at around £10 for a half bottle) that really needed using. It's a process to make this, and jelly - slightly more demanding than the usual chuck fruit in a pan, boil, strain, boil with sugar - but not much. The relatively small quantities mean it's quick to cook once you reach the second boiling stage, it also means you have to be more attentive than usual to timings. Not least because over boiling would strip out and over sweeten the wine character.

I also had a last half bottle of Trockenbeerenauslase that a friend found for about £2.50 a bottle (basically theft - this stuff should be seriously expensive - she very sensibly bought the lot) somewhere like the Co-Op a few years ago. It also needed using so although it felt really decadent I also made a batch of jelly with this. I'm glad I did, this is a wine made from Riesling grapes that have been struck with botrytis (noble rot) so are mostly dried out but have very high concentrations of sugar - the trocken in this instance means grapes that have dried rather than dry wine. the resulting wine is rich, sweet, honeyed, complex, and wonderful, something that really deserves to be treated with the highest respect. So yes, I do feel a bit guilty about boiling it.

On the other hand, the quick cooking time of the recipe along with a grape, lemon, and apple stock for pectin, make a jelly that preserves all the magic of the wine's original flavour. This really is a celebratory thing for a special occasion.

Take 500g of green grapes, wash them, remove them from their stalks, blitz them in a food processor and put in a heavy based pan along with a blitzed unwaxed lemon and about 250g of blitzed or finely chopped cooking apple. Add 400ml of water and bring to a simmer. Boil with a pan lid on for about 25 mins. Strain into a bowl, ideally overnight, it's better to really let the sediment settle. 

Next day measure out 400g of granulated sugar and sterilise some jars - small ones are best and this should make enough to fill 5 125ml jars - I filled two 300 ml jars with a bit leftover, and put a plate in the fridge for wrinkle testing. Pour 350ml of the grape stock into a heavy bottomed pan with enough room in it to allow for plenty of boiling, be careful not to shake up the sediment at the bottom too much. Heat this to a steady boil, add the sugar a third at a time stirring gently to help it dissolve and then allow to boil steadily for about 5 mins. Remove the pan from the heat and stir to disperse the bubbles covering the surface. 

Add 375ml (a half bottle) of a reasonably good sweet wine. Muscat is probably the least expensive option, but this is meant to be really special and is no time for the strictest economy. Bring back up to a steady boil for 8-9 minutes, I use a jam thermometer and the wrinkle test - I find the latter to be more reliable, and start checking from this point to see how it's setting. If it's looking good remove from the heat, you can stir in a couple of tablespoons of brandy at this point if you want. (In for a penny, in for a pound). Allow the jelly to sit for a couple of minutes and then pour into the warm, sterilised jars. Seal immediately. 


  1. I am very impressed with your jelly making. The only jelly I make is crab apple using the larger red ones so that I end up with jars of ruby jelly. I also make a chutney from the pomegranates from our tree and this is popular with the family. Lovely with cheese.

    1. Those both sound amazing. I enjoy the process of jelly making, there's something very satisfying about it - and almost no chance of burning (boiling over is a separate issue) which is another plus!

  2. Takes me back to my childhood, these preserves were a ritual to my parents! Thought you might like my latest offering a threnody for a dog!!!