Sometimes when I make a recipe, I can't help but wonder who thought of that? Who decided to try these ingredients, and how many did they try before they found the right one? This notion ran through my mind often while making Queen Anne's Lace Jelly. Seriously, who was the first person to walk through a field, gather an armful of the flower and think hey! I bet that would make a tasty spread. Let's cook it up and see what happens! I think of things like this a lot (blame the history buff inside me - I keep a journal of ideas for history books I intend to write one day, and subjects like culinary history are front runners). Of course I had to turn to Dr. Google for such answers. Here is what I found:
- Queen Anne's Lace is the progenitor of modern carrots. In fact, it is know as "wild carrot" (and if you dig it up and crush the roots, it smells like carrots)
- The flowering period for Queen Anne's Lace (in the Northeast) is typically June through August
- Queen Anne's Lace has medicinal qualities, much like many other herbs and wildflowers. It is thought that the plant can act as a diuretic, sooth the digestive tract, support the liver and aid in waste removal by the kidneys. It also aids in the treatment of dropsy/edema
- The leaves of Queen Anne's Lace (as with modern carrots) contains a high level of porphyrins, a hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland and can increase sex drive (bonus!)
- There is conflicting evidence on the effect Queen Anne's Lace has on fertility (depending on what part of the plant is used). While some claim it can increase fertility, others claim it acts as a contraceptive, and can even cause miscarriage. If you are preggers, I recommend you stay away, as with most other herbs
- Queen Anne's Lace is a dead ringer for Hemlock (yep, like the kind that killed Socrates). Be extremely careful when harvesting the flower to make sure you have the right one. The easiest way to differentiate the flowers is that Queen Anne's Lace has a "hairy" stem, while Hemlock has a smooth stem
- The source of the name is disputed, but many stories point to Royal fashions, the Patron Saint of lacemakers (St. Anne), and several instances related to Queen Anne of England/Denmark
For more information on Queen Anne's Lace and to see pictures, please visit The Carrot Museum
So, back to the jelly - Queen Anne's Lace Jelly isn't what I would refer to as a Peanut Butter and Jelly staple (like Strawberry Jam is), but more an accompaniment to a lovely cheese plate (alongside a nice creamy brie, candied nuts, and buttery crackers). Like other flowers jellies (lavender, rose, etc) it has a very herbaceous, medicinal taste. The only way to know if you like it is to try it, so here's the recipe, have at it!
Queen Anne's Lace Jelly
Makes Approximately 2 Pints
18 fresh, large Queen Anne's Lace flower heads*
4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar
2 packages powdered pectin3 drops natural red food coloring, if desired
1. Fill the sink or a large bowl with cold water. Submerge flower heads in the water and slosh around to remove any insects. Drain flowers.
2. Place the flowers in a large pot** and cover with boiling water. Cover and let sit for several hours or overnight. Essentially, you are making a very strong, stinky Queen Anne's Lace tea.
3. Strain the cooled "tea" through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Save the tea, discard the flowers.
4. Rinse your pot and add the tea back in. Heat over a medium-high flame. Add the lemon juice, sugar and pectin. Stir to dissolve and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute, then reduce heat to medium. Stir frequently and be sure to scrap the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. Cook for 8-10 minutes until thickened (a good "set" test is to place a plate in the freezer for 15 minutes. Drop a small spoonful of the jelly onto the cold plate. After 30 seconds, the jelly should form a soft set and not run).
5. If you wish, add food coloring to the jelly to give it a peachy-pink color. Otherwise, the jelly with be a very light chartreuse color.
6. Pour jelly into sterilized mason jars or other storage container. Keep in the refrigerator or process in a hot water bath for five minutes. Enjoy!
*You can definitely pick Queen Anne's Lace from fields and pastures (like I did), but pick several feet away from the road to be sure the flowers aren't contaminated with pesticides or road grime. Queen Anne's Lace can also be found at the Farmers Market.
**When making a floral or herbal jelly, be sure to cook in a ceramic or stainless steel pot. Cooper or aluminum pans can chemically alter the properties of the flowers/herbs.