Basil Jelly

Prepare to have your gardening and preserving lives forever changed for the better with these two words: Basil Jelly.

Yes, that's a mighty big promise to start out with, but you guys, this jelly is that good.  The aroma, the color, the taste--I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I made this batch of jelly on Monday.
It all started with a glut of garden basil.  The basil has been growing beautifully this year, but with a batch of fresh pesto already in the refrigerator and no ripe tomatoes in sight yet, I was stuck trying to come up with some other options to use it up.  I was contemplating making up a batch of basil syrup, when I started to wonder if it would work to make a basil jelly.  With thoughts of a beautiful pale green, lemony basil jelly occupying my mind, I was on a mission to find a recipe.

Finding the right recipe took a little bit of time.  I looked through about half a dozen variations, but nothing jumped out at me as exactly what I was looking for, so I started to compare recipes, looking for the basic proportions of basil, water, sugar, acid, and pectin to use as a starting point.
The first task at hand was to extract the basil flavor and color for the jelly.  Most of the recipes I looked at called for combining the basil leaves and water in a large pot and slowly bringing it to a boil, but when I tried this method, I found that the basil leaves browned very easily as they came in contact with the hot metal and the resulting color of the liquid was more of a brownish green (the flavor was good, but it wasn't exactly the aesthetic I was hoping for), so I tried I different approach with the second batch.  This time I prepared the basil and placed it in the bottom of a large glass bowl while I brought some water to a boil.  I then measured out 2 cups of boiling water and poured it over the basil in the glass bowl.  This time the basil turned a brilliant bright green (no browning at all) and the liquid was a much prettier pale green (not to mention, the kitchen smelled amazing afterwards!).

Once I had the liquid prepared, I added sugar and started to cook the jelly.  Again, most of the recipes I considered were in agreement, using vinegar for acidity, but I really had my heart set on that classic lemon-basil combination, so I substituted bottled lemon juice for vinegar (a safe substitution for canning recipes, but it is recommended to use bottled lemon juice, as it is more consistently acidic than fresh squeezed).  Per the basic formula I was following, I started with two tablespoons,  but after tasting it, I added two more tablespoons to make sure that both the lemon and the basil flavors were discernible. The results were pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself!

It's worth noting that the intensity of the basil flavor will vary, depending on what variety you use (I am growing all Sweet Basil this year). Though the recipe below calls for 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice, you may want to start with a minimum of 2 tablespoons and add more to taste. 
It's been quite a while since I made jelly, and this was my first time making it all on my own without mom to coach me with any of her jelly-making wisdom, but I managed through, adding the liquid pectin, returning it to a quick one minute boil, and skimming off the foam before filling the jars.  All the while being mesmerized by the pretty pale green color and wonderful scent of basil and lemon!  

The jelly set up beautifully, and has a great flavor and aroma.  I ended up with four half-pint jars canned, and one open jar in the refrigerator (which I'm not ashamed to admit that I regularly open, just to smell and sneak a little taste).  I'm definitely looking forward to finding some great uses for this jelly in the kitchen! 

I'm also looking forward to making another batch of this jelly the next time the basil starts to get ahead of me - It's definitely a new favorite and a seasonal must-make!  I'd also love to try different varieties of basil to see how they compare.  Note to self: plant more Lemon Basil next year for this very purpose.  
Basil Jelly
2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
2 cups water
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
3 oz. package liquid pectin

Rough chop basil leaves and place them in a large glass bowl and set aside.  Bring water to a boil and pour over the basil; cover and let sit for 15-20 minutes.  After time has passed, pour liquid through a strainer to remove leaves and measure out 1 1/2 cups of the liquid.  

Combine liquid with sugar and lemon juice in a large pot and slowly bring to a boil.  When the boil is constant and cannot be stirred down, add the liquid pectin.  Stirring constantly, return to a rapid boil and boil for 1 minute and remove from heat promptly. 

Skim off any foam on the surface of the jelly and fill sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process in hot water bath for 15 minutes. 

Yield: 5 half-pint jars

Recipe heavily adapted from several sources, but I depended most heavily on Renee's Garden for method.

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