I like to give homemade gifts at Christmas. Two easy favorites are Spiced Sherry Jelly and Bourbon-Cherry Jelly.
Jelly isn't hard to make, especially when there's no fruit to crush, seeds to strain out, etc. It does require hot-water-bath processing, but that's easy too, and no special equipment is needed. You can use a large pot or kettle and a rack on which the jelly jars will sit. We've also used a pasta cooker, one of those pots with a perforated inner pot, setting the jars on the bottom of the inner pot. One thing that would be helpful is a jar-lifter, but you can try taking the hot jars out of the water with tongs, tongs and a spatula or spoon, or the like.
You'll need four half-pint canning jars with lids and rings. Sterilize the jars, either in boiling water, or as I do it, by setting them on a tray and placing in a 250-degree oven for half an hour. (I find this is much less messy.) Wash the rings and lids in hot, soapy water. Place the lids in a pan of hot water--not boiling--and keep hot on a back burner, not letting the water boil. Start your kettle of water boiling. The water must be an inch or two above the tops of the jars. Fill the sterilized jar with the hot jelly to about a half-inch from the top of the jar, place the lid on, and tighten the ring, being careful all the while not to burn yourself on the hot jar. If you spill jelly on the rim of the jar, wipe with a clean damp cloth. Otherwise the jar may not seal.
To process, the water in the pot should be at a boil. Use a jar-lifter, tongs, or whatever to lower the filled jelly jars into the water. Cover the pot, bring to a rolling boil, and start timing. The water should boil gently and steadily during processing. For these recipes, 5 minutes should do it. Remove the jars and set them on a towel on the counter, or on a wooden cutting board. (Hot jars and a cold counter top can make for a cracked jar.) You should hear the lids of the jars pop as they seal. Sometimes they don't make noise, but by looking at the lid you can tell it's sealed if the lid is concave and the little button at the center is no longer visible. It might take a little time before you see or hear that the jars have sealed. Let cool, label, and store. Opened jars should be kept refrigerated.
I find that jelly recipes usually don't quite fill the four jars. This is okay. Just process the partially filled jar with the others. When I give jelly as gifts, one of the bonuses is keeping those partly filled jars for myself!
Spiced Sherry Jelly
Note: I didn't have any allspice when I made the jelly, so I just omitted it! It should taste even better if you use the allspice.
1/2-inch long cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1/2 tsp. whole allspice
1/2 cup cream sherry
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 packet powdered fruit pectin (Sure-Jell)
3 cups sugar
Prepare the jars as described above.
Tie cinnamon, cloves, and allspice in a double thickness of cheesecloth, or use a basket-style coffee filter and tie shut (that's what I always use in lieu of cheesecloth).
In a large, heavy saucepan, place the spice bag; add sherry, water, lemon juice, and pectin. Heat mixture to boiling over high heat, stirring frequently. Once it comes to a boil, immediately stir in sugar. Stirring constantly, heat until mixture comes to a full rolling boil. Boil one minute. (Make sure it really is a good rolling boil that doesn't stop even while stirring, or your jelly may not set.) Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with a spoon. Ladle into jars and process as described above.
The only place around here where I can find canned sour cherries packed in water is Meijer's. Only the liquid in the can is used, so I use the cherries to make pie filling. You may be more imaginative and find other uses for the cherries!
I use Old Granddad bourbon.
2 cans (16 oz.) water-packed sour cherries
1 packet powdered pectin
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
Drain cherries into a measuring cup. You'll need 1 1/2 cups juice. Combine the juice and the pectin in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil. Add sugar and return to a rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.Remove from heat. Skim any foam off with a spoon. Stir in the bourbon. Ladle into jars and process as described above.