This year I have been experimenting with wild jelly candies made from the concentrated juice of wild berries including Oregon grape (Mahonia repens), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and wild grape (Vitis riparia). This has been complicated by the fact that I wanted them to be vegan and low-glycemic. I know, I know—the fruit has natural sugars in it, but at least wild fruit has less sugar than cultivated fruit!
Making Vegan Jellies
To make the concentrated juice, press the berries raw or gently steam and press, then strain through a nut bag or cloth. (If you are working with wild grapes, leave the juice overnight in the refrigerator to precipitate out the irritating tartrate, and then decant before using.)
Making the jellies couldn’t be simpler once you obtain powdered agar agar, which is a seaweed product: Combine 1/2 cup juice and 1/2 Tbsp agar agar in a saucepan and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sweetener to taste toward the end. Then pour the thickened liquid into a mold–I used a bran muffin tin–cool, and let set in the refrigerator about 15 minutes before popping out the fruit gel and slicing it into cubes. I like to roll them in powdered sweetener just before eating. They are best stored in the refrigerator as they can sweat, messing up your sweet coating. Here’s a video of the process.
I learned this process from Kirbie’s Cravings, whose recipe calls for gummy bear molds and sweetening with honey. You can find other recipes at her site for gelatin versions, which she prefers. Note that these do not make a gummy bear texture. Nor are they like Turkish delights, despite the resemblance; Turkish or Greek delights utilize starch to get the soft texture. These are more like fruit snacks, the kind my sister-in-law gives to her daughter in lieu of candy. The recipe also does not make a lot of jellies; you can double and triple it once you’re satisfied with the results.
A Word on Sweeteners
As I was seeking to make a low-glycemic version, I experimented with sweeteners. For the pot, granulated stevia turned out to be best, after two less successful attempts with granulated and powdered monkfruit/erythritol, both of which crystalized as they cooled.
I found that tart Oregon grape and wild grape juices made the best jellies, but also required sweetener. I tried to omit the sweetener altogether for the chokecherry, since I had a particularly sweet batch of juice. As Kirbie points out, however, the agar agar reduces the sweetness, which is why it’s a good idea to taste during simmering. As a result, my chokecherry jellies turned out less sweet than I liked.
For the dusting, powdered sugar would of course work fine, but powdered monkfruit/erythritol worked great too. In fact, it was the perfect fix for the chokecherry batch.
Pick your fruit and have at it!