The scent of honeysuckle takes me straight back to childhood. You remember Ms. Dot from my chicken and dumplings post? She was the community babysitter when I was kid. I spent many summers at her house while my parents were at work.
Ms. Dot ran a sort of daycare out of her house. I use the term “daycare” loosely because back in the 1980’s, there weren’t all these health department codes that mandated how childcare facilities needed to be run. There were about a dozen of us kids that she looked after – maybe more – ranging from infant to school age.
In the afternoon, the older kids were sent outside to the backyard. The backyard had two rusty swing sets. We built roads for our matchbox cars through a big patch of dirt under an oak tree behind the shed where the grass wouldn’t grow. A chain link fence prevented us from wandering into oncoming traffic on Commerce Street. The only rules were stay out of the crawlspace beneath the house (snakes) and don’t venture past the carport. Other than that, we were pretty much left unsupervised. We had each other and our imaginations to entertain us.
Ms. Dot’s backyard was where I was introduced to honeysuckle. There were several vines intertwined among the bushes that had overgrown a section of the back fence. I’m pretty sure it was an older kid who showed me how to “pull the string” from the bottom, revealing the tiny dot of sweet nectar.
A few years ago, I discovered honeysuckle vines growing behind my back fence. Every spring when I see the blooms emerge, I venture back there and relive my childhood for a few moments. Then I gather as many blooms as I can to make this frozen honeysuckle sorbet and recently, vanilla bean honeysuckle jelly.
You have to make an infusion with the blooms. To speed things up, allow the blooms to steep in hot water for several minutes. Or you could employ a tactic my mama used to make tea – fill a jar with the blooms and cold water, then set the jar out in the sun and let nature do the work.
I was surprised by how much this jelly looks and tastes like actual honey. It’s sweet, but subtle.
Vanilla Bean Honeysuckle Jelly
- 4 cups honeysuckle flowers
- 2-3 whole vanilla beans
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 package 1.75 ounces pectin
Carefully remove the stems from the honeysuckle blooms, preserving as much of the bloom as possible. Place the blooms in a large heat safe bowl with the vanilla beans. Pour the hot water over the top. Allow blooms and vanilla beans to steep in the hot water until it comes to room temperature.
Strain the infusion. Discard the flowers, but reserve the vanilla beans. Bring two cups of the infusion to a boil over medium high heat. Add the lemon juice and sugar. Stir to completely dissolve the sugar, and then return the mixture to a hard boil. Add the pectin and continue to boil vigorously for two minutes. Remove pan from heat.
Pour jelly into clean half-pint jars. Cut the reserved vanilla beans into thirds and place a piece into each jar, if desired. Store jelly in the refrigerator or process jars using a water bath canning method.
Makes 7 half-pint jars