Thursday, May 10, 2012

Crook’s-inspired Honeysuckle Jelly – two ways

This blog was first published by Chapel Hill Magazine.

Honeysuckle sorbet is one of the many signature dishes that makes Crook’s Corner a Chapel Hill landmark. Developed by Chef Bill Smith from a Renaissance-era recipe for jasmine ice, the delicate flavor of this decadent slush inspires near riots in the West Franklin Street eatery every spring.

Smith’s fuss-free recipe is easy to recreate at home, and it converts nicely into a simple but intoxicatingly fragrant jelly. Indeed, the ingredients are nearly identical, with the exception of added low-sugar pectin and canning jars instead of an ice-cream machine.

The Crook’s-inspired Honeysuckle Jelly below is easily tweaked to create a jewel-toned strawberry variation – which no doubt would be insanely good made instead with sun-warmed wild blackberries, which just happen to grow amid Smith’s preferred honeysuckle patch. Either way, the recipes are so simple and reliable that they were used to teach a first-time canner how to make jelly.  

Smith prefers to pick honeysuckles in the evening, when their perfume is heavy, but concedes he’s had delicious results with flowers plucked dewy-fresh is the morning, too. An ideal time is after a rain, when older blooms have shaken loose, leaving the best pickings behind.

The honeysuckles used to make these jellies were gathered along the greenway of our North Raleigh neighborhood, but they can be found in plentiful supply along roadsides and other places where weeds thrive. Be careful to choose bushes that have not been chemically treated, and ask permission as appropriate.

You’ll likely observe a lot of variation – some flowers are pure white to the stem while others reveal a tender blush of pink, and the petals will range from white to buttery yellow. Avoid ones that are dark yellow or shriveled as they may be bitter, and for goodness sake, don’t bother pinching off the tiny green bases.

“Some people think I actually do that at the restaurant, or use just the stamens because that’s their childhood experience with honeysuckles,” Smith says with a chuckle. “If I did that, I’d never get around to making anything.”

Honeysuckle Jelly
4 cups (tightly packed buy not smashed) honeysuckle flowers, leaves and stems discarded
5 cups cool water
1 package low-sugar pectin (such as Sure-Jell in the pink box)
3 cups sugar
½ tsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Speck of cinnamon

Prepare a dozen 4-ounce jelly jars (or comparable assortment) according to USDA guidelines.

Place the flowers in a nonreactive container (glass or stainless steel) and cover with cool water. Weight down with a plate. Sit on counter overnight or at least 8 hours. Drain mixture through a jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander. Measure 4½ cups honeysuckle stock; discard blooms.

In a deep, heavy-bottom pot – I use a pasta pot – pour in stock and add package of pectin and ¼ cup sugar. Over medium-high heat, stir until sugar and pectin are fully incorporated. Stirring often, add butter and bring mixture to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.

When at a full bubble, add the rest of the sugar all at once, plus the lemon juice and cinnamon. Stir frequently until mix returns to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Use a timer or count off 60 seconds. Transfer pot to heatproof surface.

If necessary, skim any foam with a tight mesh strainer. Carefully pour hot jelly into prepared jars, top with warmed lids and finger-tighten screw-on bands. Place jars in water bath and boil for about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let the jars settle for about 5 minutes, then carefully remove and set on a heatproof surface where they can remain undisturbed until cooled and set.

Don’t worry if the jelly does not set quickly. It should firm up nicely by the next day, but if it doesn’t, fear not. You can now boast of having made amazing honeysuckle syrup, great in cocktails or drizzled on desserts. If you’re daring, you can even dab a drop behind your ears.

2 cups fresh strawberries, coarsely chopped
5 cups water

Add strawberries to water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Drain through jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander and discard remaining strawberry mush.

From this point on, continue as described in the original Honeysuckle Jelly Recipe, substituting 5 cups of strawberry water for plain water.


  1. Amazing.

    I made the sorbet just once about 5 years ago, and people are still raving. I just started canning in January, and I see now my honeysuckle vines will have no flowers left this year after I'm done with them.

  2. I have the problem of no matter how much petin I use. My honey suckle jelly never ever sets. What gives??