Janna planted six new peonies early this spring, in addition to the five we already had. This is the first year that most of them blossomed, though cold, rainy weather made them very late, and hot sunny weather made their appearance very brief.

Peonies are the very definition of spring. Their aroma can reach you from over a fence. The delicate, elaborate, luxurious blossoms bear the promise of a sweet summer on their overloaded stems. The only sad thing about a peony is how brief their tenure is in the garden. This spring, the peonies bloomed exceptionally late, delayed by a chilly, rainy April and May. Janna planted about 10 different varieties, and they bloomed in succession starting about two weeks ago, with only one bud left to burst. More heavy rain beat the blooms apart, and they were pretty much done-for in the landscape. I got the idea, though, to preserve the sweet perfumed blossoms as jelly, so we can enjoy the scent of spring into deepest winter.

Pick the petals from the flowers, being careful to remove any bugs and wilted parts.

I gathered about a quart of petals. These are best if home grown and known to be chemical-free. Pick out the brown petals and any green stem parts. Different varieties of peony have different aromas. Use the most fragrant blossoms you can find.

 

Steep the peony petals for six hours.

Next, boil some water, and cover the petals. For my four cups of petals, I added about five cups of boiling water. The petals will wilt down instantly, and emit a scent that isn’t very appetizing at all. You’ll second-guess your decision almost instantly. Going from stupendous blooms to a sad peony soup in five minutes is kind of demoralizing. You’ll think you’ve killed the floral aroma of the petals. But be brave: it’s still in there, as bad as everything looks. Let the petals steep for at least six hours, or overnight.
The peony tea is eerily green, and doesn’t have any of the perfume of fresh blossoms. It smells vegetal.
Strain the peony tea through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, and reserve 3 1/2 cups. It isn’t necessary to press the petals to extract the last bit of moisture. I ended up with 4 1/2 cups of liquid, but the last cup had most of the impurities. The liquid is a fairly disgusting yellow-green. You’ll think about adding a few drops of food coloring, just to make it a bit more appetizing. Again, resist the urge to mess with the process.
When you add lemon juice, the peony tea immediately turns a much more attractive pinkish-orange. It’s like a science experiment.

Add the juice of one large lemon. Sieve out the pulp for a truly clear result. As soon as the acid hits the peony tea, it changes from a sickly green to an appetizing pinkish-orange. Sterilize some jars (my recipe yielded about 4 1/2 cups total) and bring the mixture to a boil. Whisk in a package of pectin, and skim any scum from the surface. There won’t be much, but this step results in a clearer jelly. Bring it back to a boil, then dump in three cups of sugar. Whisk again, then bring it to a hard boil for one full minute. Again, if you haven’t made jelly from a pure liquid before, you’ll think your mixture is too thin. Resist the urge to add more pectin. The ratio is perfect. Ladle into jars, seal, and process for ten minutes.

The peony jelly set up perfectly, and on first taste, it’s incredible. It has a deliciously strong floral essence, and is just slightly tart.

I ended up with three half-pint jars, two half-cup jars and a small tupperware container of jelly to go directly into the fridge. It ended up as clear as stained glass, and a soft amber color. It jiggles satisfyingly on a spoon – the perfect jelly-set. On first taste, it’s almost as perfect as the legendary mimosa jelly I brought back from Nice: bright, heavily perfumed, slightly tart. This peony jam needs nothing more than to be spread lightly on an airy slice of bread to bring you fully back to a perfect day in May, when a ray of sun is piercing through a cooling gray rain cloud.  

Peony Jelly
4 cups lightly packed peony petals
5 cups boiling water
Juice of 1 lemon
1 package of pectin
3 cups sugar

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