If you spend a lot of time hanging around farmers’ markets or fancy food shops, you will have seen that there are several companies now offering fruit jellies. In our neck of the woods, the market leader is Ouse Valley Foods who make excellent jellies (well, that was the case until they had a bad fire in the kitchens a few weeks ago – hopefully they’ll bounce back from that soon). They can be seen at food fairs cunningly displayed with a light behind them so that you can see the lovely colours of the jellies.
But at around £3 to £4 for a half pound jar, you might baulk at stocking your shelves with a wide array. Fear not! For I have a dead easy recipe for making crab apple jelly and, as the crab apples are in season at the moment, now is the time to make it.
- crab apples – as a guide, when I fill our 24cm diameter pan with apples, we get around four pounds of jelly.
- sugar – ordinary sugar, not fancy stuff with pectin added.
- things to add flavour (chilli, sage, garlic – use your imagination).
- you will also need some muslin or a jelly bag – available from any decent cookery store – as well as some jars.
- First, gather your crab apples. Befriend a neighbour with a tree. Check out family members who might have some. Generally these things just fall to the ground and rot, so if you tell the owner of the tree that you plan to put them to good use and perhaps promise a jar of the resulting product as payment, then I’m sure you can find some. It doesn’t really matter what variety of crab apple you use. I’m lucky that my parents have two large trees of the variety
John Downey John DownieDartmouth which has large (3cm diameter) red skinned fruits. Larger fruited varieties are certainly easier to deal with, but smaller ones can be used – you just need a bit more patience to prepare the fruit. Generally speaking, red skinned varieties give red jelly, yellow skinned varieties give amber coloured jelly. Windfalls are just fine so long as they are not too badly damaged. If you are short of crab apples, you can bulk them out with a little Bramley apple, peeled, cored and chopped.
- Sort your fruit. Give it a good wash and chuck away badly damaged fruit. Cut the fruit in half – you certainly don’t need to peel them and it is barely worth removing the stalks.
- Place the fruit in a large pan and add water so that it comes up to the same level as the top of the fruit. Simmer over a low heat, with a lid on the pan, until the fruit has turned to pulp. This will take at least half an hour, maybe twice that (depends on your particular apples).
- Happy that it is pulpy? Good. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool a little. Then place your muslin or jelly bag over the top of a sieve and rest it on top of a large bowl. Ladle the apple pulp/juice mixture into the muslin-lined sieve and let the fluid drip through into the bowl. You’ll need to do this in batches to stop the sieve getting clogged. You will also need to be patient – this takes quite a while.
- Some recipes caution against getting behind the pulp with a wooden spoon and forcing it through the sieve – they say it makes your jelly cloudy. Not so, in my experience, but I may just be lucky in my choice of apple variety.
- When you have strained all the juice, discard the pulp. It almost seems a shame to waste it, so if anyone has a suggestion for uses for the pulp, let me know.
- Measure the volume of juice and place it in a clean pan. Add sugar at the ratio of (Imperial units alert!!) one pound of sugar to every pint of juice. (For those with only metric measuring equipment, that equates to 800g of sugar for every litre of juice). Yes, that is a lot of sugar. Trust me (and don’t tell your dentist).
- Stir the sugar into the juice until it is dissolved and then, over a low to medium heat, simmer the juice. This will take at least 45 minutes to an hour, perhaps more (again, this may vary according to your apple variety). If you get any scum on the surface of the mixture, just carefully skim it off with a soup spoon.
- Whilst this is going on, put two saucers in the freezer. You’ll need them in a bit. Also, sterilize your jars. You do this by washing them with hot soapy water and then, without drying them, placing them inside your oven at a low heat (80 Celsius is enough) for about five minutes. No hotter and no longer, or else the jars will break. I use the fancy jars with the metal clip-down seals and rubber seal rings when I’m giving jelly away as a gift – but for domestic consumption, recycled jam jars are just fine.
- Now you need to test if your juice has reached the setting point. When I first read about this, I was quite put off as it seemed so difficult to judge – the thought of un-set jelly in my jars was not encouraging. But a quick search online and a peek in old Delia Smith cookbooks gives some handy easy-to-follow tips. Take one of your (now really cold) saucers from the freezer. Put a spoonful of the juice onto the saucer and then put it in the fridge for two or three minutes. Then, take it out of the fridge and gently push at the mixture with your finger as if you are trying to push it across the surface of the saucer. If the surface of the jelly “crinkles” as you push it, then it is ready to put into jars. If it doesn’t, simmer your mixture for another ten minutes before having another go (I’d wash that saucer and shove it back in the freezer – some days, it seems to take an age to reach the setting point, and you’ll need to do this test several times). It’s hard to describe the crinkling – the surface sort of wrinkles up like skin as you push against it – more than just a “bow wave” in front of your finger. But once you see it, you’ll be in no doubt.
- Carefully ladle your mixture into your sterile jars – perhaps wait for it to cool a little so as to avoid shattering the jars. If the mixture is very eager to set and is setting in the pan (this happened to me once when making redcurrant jelly), then just keep the pan on a low heat and keep stirring it to stop it setting until you get the last bit into a jar (you might need an assistant to do that).
- Let the jelly cool in the jars. As it does so, it will begin to set, but you need to do the next bit before it completely sets – and that is to add your flavouring. The crab apple jelly is lovely on its own, but it is even better (in my view) if you add some flavouring. My favourites are chilli and sage, but you could use almost anything – garlic, rosemary, star anise – whatever takes your fancy. I tend to stick to savoury flavours (we use the jelly with cold meats, sausages and cheese) but it could be sweet too.
- Prepare your flavouring. Wash it. In the case of chilli, chop into thin rings. For sage, individual leaves. And then push it into the nearly-but-not-quite set jelly using the back of a tea spoon. This allows you to get the flavouring spread evenly through the jelly (if you add it when the jelly is runny, it sinks to the bottom; if you wait until the jelly is totally set, it either sits at the top of the jar or you spoil the beauty (not the flavour) of the jelly by pushing your spoon in).
- Leave overnight to cool and set completely. Label.
- Admire your handywork. Hold the jar up to the bright light and survey the lovely coloured jelly with the chilli/sage/whatever sitting in it.
Now head off to the local market and flog it. Alternatively, you’ve just got yourself a bunch of cheap Christmas gifts. It keeps really well – we’ve just finished last year’s chilli jelly having stored it in a dark, cool cupboard.