Enjoying the taste of dandelions 

While many people fight an ongoing battle to remove dandelions from their yard, I have always viewed them as a sign of spring. They are some of the first hints of color after a long, cold winter.

But they are more than just something to look at. Knowing they were edible, I set out to find ways to use dandelions, besides the soap I had made from them last year.

Dandelion Jelly sounded good and looked good from the information I found about it online.

So I set out to gather my dandelions. After a couple of times of picking, I soon realized the best time to pick is late morning. The dandelions are fully open and easy to spot at this time. This year, my yard has been covered with the bright yellow flowers, making picking fairly easy. For one batch of jelly, you will need to collect four cups of tightly packed dandelion heads. Then rinse them and let them dry for a bit. This will make the next step a lot easier.

You have to remove the yellow petals from the green leaves surrounding them. Some have said they use a knife and cut off the bottom of the dandelion, then remove the petals, but I found simply grasping the bottom of the flower in one hand and then plucking the yellow petals from the middle works pretty well. Sometimes you have to go back and pick a few of the leaves out if you got several, but a few doesn’t seem to make a difference. (I read that too many green leaves will make the jelly bitter.) You will have sticky, yellow fingers at the end of this process, but it’s worth the effort.

Once all of the petals are “plucked,” place them in a jar or bowl and pour four cups of boiling water over them. Place a lid or saucer across the bowl or jar to keep in the steam. Let this set for a minimum of two hours or even overnight, letting the petals steep.

After this is done, strain the liquid into a pan, removing all of the petals. Add one box of pectin and one quarter cup of lemon juice. Heat the mixture to boiling, then add three cups of sugar. Stir constantly and boil for one minute. Then pour the jelly into sterilized jars and process for five minutes in a water bath.

The jelly looks a bit like the Sunflower Jelly I made last summer, only a little darker and with a much richer and different taste. There is a hint of honey flavor in the jelly.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener. 


Enjoying watermelon in a different way


I can’t think of anything that tastes more like summer than watermelon (except maybe Sunflower jelly). It’s refreshing, delicious and a great snack. Of course, you can have too much of anything, can’t you? I do this summer.

I was excited when I picked my first ripe watermelon. It was the first time I had successfully grown watermelon. I tried once before but they never seemed to be ripe. Cutting open that watermelon and seeing the juicy red inside was exciting.

I started eating, and eating, but there was still watermelon.

Not wanting it to go to waste, it was time to find something to do with it. I remembered flipping through my book of canning recipes before and seeing something with watermelon. After looking again, I found watermelon jelly, but it was made from the white rind of the watermelon. I still needed to find something to do with the rest.

A little more searching led me to find a watermelon jelly recipe that uses the fruit of the watermelon. That sounded like it would taste better too.

So I gathered the ingredients and created some jelly. It was tasty, but needed a few adjustments from the original recipe. I reduced the sugar a bit so it wasn’t so sweet, and left the pulp part of the watermelon in rather than straining the juice so I created a watermelon jam.

It was an easy process. You begin by chopping up the watermelon and removing all of the black seeds. (The recipe said you didn’t have to remove the white seeds, but I still took out as many as I could.). Then puree the watermelon in a food processor and measure out 2 cups of puree. Combine that with a box of pectin and a quarter cup of bottled lemon juice.

Bring that to a boil for a minute, then add 3 cups of sugar and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minutes and process it in a boiling water bath for 12 minutes. It is not only delicious, but also pretty to look at. My shelves of canned goods are getting much more colorful this year with the watermelon jelly and sunflower jelly.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.

Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

The taste of Sunflowers


Driving home the other day I noticed the sunflowers I had been starting to see were now in full bloom. The bright yellow blossoms line the road to my house, as they do on many Kansas roads.

Looking at them I began to wonder. Surely, there is something you can do with those flowers. When I got home, I Googled uses for sunflowers. While I was sure you could make soap or something like that out of them, I was surprised to learn the petals on the flowers are edible, sometimes even used as a garnish on a salad.

Upon further investigation I found a recipe for Sunflower Jelly.

I set out with my measuring cup in hand and began to pick enough petals for my first batch of sunflower jelly. This was a much less painful process than the blackberries I’d picked earlier in the summer. No thorns, no scratches and no bleeding. It doesnimg_3286’t take long to gather enough petals.

Be cautious in your picking though because there also are Black-Eyed Susans in bloom right now and they look a lot like sunflowers. One way to tell the difference is by the leaves. According to Larry Crouse, K-State Research and Extension horticulture agent, the sunflower has heart-shaped leaves, while Black-Eyed Susans are long and slender. In addition, he said the Black-Eyed Susan (rudbeckia) also has a raised black center to the flower; it always has a black, or very dark, center; and it doesn’t develop the big seed load like a sunflowimg_3287er.

Once collected rinse the leaves and put them in a jar. To make the jelly, you pour 2 1/2 cups of boiling water over the 2 cups of petals and zest from one lemon, cover that with a saucer or lid and let it steep for two hours. Then strain the water off of the mixture and put in a pan. Add one box of pectin and a quarter cup of bottled lemon juice, then bring that to a boil. Once boiling, add 3 1/2  cups of sugar. Stirring constantly, bring that to a boil and let boil one minute. You can then fill your sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for five minutes.

* Note: Despite having the lemons, do not use fresh squeezed lemon juice in the jelly. I have read in other methods of preserving not to use fresh squeeze but rather bottled because it has a consistent acidity which is needed for canning.

img_3407-cutout-2After first tasting the jelly, I made the comment that “it tastes like summer.” I look forward to opening a jar when the temperatures are below freezing and there is snow on the ground, just to bring back just a bit of summer.

I also wanted to save some of those sunflower petals, so I collected more and dried them for about 12 hours on my dehydrator then sealed them in baggies for soaps and other uses.

I will research more this winter when canning season is over and I’m looking for something to do.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Sandhill Plums a great find for tasty jam


It’s time to venture outside of the garden again to find this week’s new food to try. It’s the time of year to find Sandhill Plums growing in the wild. These plums are an unusual fruit because they thrive in ditches rather than a well-tended garden.

So it’s time to take that drive in the country again, but keep your eyes open for those purple plums. They are ready to pick once they have started to turn purple, starting out green – just make sure they aren’t soft. The collection of the Sand Hill Plums isn’t nearly as treacherous as the blackberries in last week’s column. No thorns, no scratches – just be sure to wear boots because you will have to get down into the ditch to pick them.

Once home, one of my favorite things to do with them is make Sand Hill Plum Jam. It’s easy to make and is a great way to enjoy the taste of the plums for months to come.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Sand Hill Plum Jam

Sand Hill Plum Jelly

(makes 8 half-pint jars)

5 pounds plums, halved and pitted
4 cups water
1 package (1 3/4 ounces) pectin
7 1/2 cups sugar

In a large pot, combine plums and water. Simmer 30 minutes. Pour water and plums into a strainer and let stand 10 minutes or until all of the water has drained through into a bowl (it should measure 5 1/2 cups). * Note: To make it more like jam, mash bits of the plums through the strainer with the liquid.
Pour liquid back into the pan and add the pectin.  Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Add sugar and return to a full boil. Stir constantly and let boil one minute.
Remove from heat and skim off any foam. Pour into hot canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace and process in a water bath for five minutes.