As I mentioned yesterday we’re lucky enough to live in a spot that is surrounded by hedgerows which are fair teeming with fruity edibles, and although the blackberries don’t seem to have done so well this year as last, the apple harvest is spectacular.
Just up the road from us is a little square of grass which is home to 3 crab apple trees, all of the variety with those red and rosy blooms, as ruddy coloured as a Thomas Hardy farmer’s complexion. Two big baskets have been picked for jellies and then just round the back from our house are scattered some wildlings, apple trees that have just set in and grown where an apple core has been thrown. One tree is a fine eater but I find that the others are best added to the crab apples for jelly or sliced and added to regular baking apples in pies and crumbles.
So when the weather is nice I’ll nip out for an hour or so with my old shopping basket and have a look round what I’ve come to think of as a wild pantry, at this time of year it’s very rare for me to come home without something or other that can be cooked or baked or drowned in alcohol.
In the past I’ve made sweet crab apple jellies flavoured with leaves from rose geraniums, soft and jewel like on bread and butter or breakfast toast but this year I thought to make a more savoury version that I can stir into Winter gravies, casseroles, and soups.
Crab Apple Jelly for gravies and casseroles
washed and dried crab apples (with some wildings too if you have them)
freshly picked herbs
white wine vinegar
Making the juice
Wash your crab apples, I tend to tumble mine in the sink, give them a gentle wash in cold water and dry them with a tea towel, and check them over at the same time for grub or wasp holes and discard those to the compost. Cut the crab apples in half and then pop them into a big heavy bottomed pan (the one you usually use for jam). I remove the stalks but leave the rest of the apple.
When you cut them in half sometimes you’ll find unpleasantness going on through the middle of the apple, compost these rather than use them in your jelly.
For every kilo of apples I then add about 650 ml of water. As this is a savoury jelly I’ve also added a couple of sprigs of rosemary and a couple of bay leaves from our garden, but if you’d rather a sweet jelly then leave those out (geranium leaves if being used instead should be added now).
Gently simmer the fruit, it helps to watch over it and stir regularly so it doesn’t catch. After a while the fruit begins to soften and you can press them against the side of the pan with the spoon so they break down even more.
After a good half hour the apples will have broken down and become all mushy. The end result doesn’t look too appealing although the smell is rather nice.
You now need to add some white wine or cider vinegar (but only if you’re making a savoury version…if you want a sweet jelly leave this out) For every kilo of apples used you’ll need to add 100 ml of vinegar. Allow to cook a little more and keep stirring so the fruit doesn’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.
Straining the juice
Once the cooked fruit has cooled a little you’ll need to strain off the juice. You can buy jelly strainers but I find the best way is to strain the fruit through an old but clean pillowcase. (But you could easily make a double lined bag from cheesecloth or muslin)
Wash the pillowcase in cold water so that the fabric is wet and wring it out well. Open it up and place in a large bowl and then fill with the cooked fruit. Using some strong kitchen string (I use mine double thickness) wrap round the top of the pillowcase and tie it tight, The jelly bag (or pillowcase) needs to be suspended so the juice will drip through, if you have a kitchen stool that you can turn over then use that, however I used a step ladder…it all looked a bit Heath Robinson but worked a treat with the juice gently dripping down in to a big bowl under the supported pillowcase. Leave over night and resist squeezing the bag to encourage the juice to drip more as this makes for a cloudy jelly.
This was some of the collected juice….the juice was at this stage beautifully clear but I then proceeded to squeeze the bag to high heaven as I wasn’t fussy about the jelly being cloudy. (I’m not planning to enter any village fetes or such like, and cloudy jelly is no less delicious)
I forgot to measure the juice from the un-squeezed bag, but once squeezed I had 2400 ml of fragrant and coral coloured juice.
Making the jelly
For every 600 ml of juice you need to use 450 g of granulated sugar. Gently heat the juice and sugar together until the sugar has all dissolved and then turn up the heat so that the jelly has a good rolling boil and then test for a set.
Crab apples have a lot of pectin and while this makes for a good setting jam or jelly, it does seem to produce a lot of white foamy scum, however I leave mine until the set has been reached, then carefully skim it all off while the jelly cools slightly before I bottle the jelly up in to sterilised jam jar.
And this is some of the finished product, it’s a glorious coral salmon pinky colour, a tad cloudy but still jewel bright.I know it wouldn’t win me a first prize rosette on appearance (ahh but if they were only to taste it they may think quite different).
Come cold Autumn evenings when it’s all wild winds and rain battering against the windows, I’ll be more than a little happy to have this bounty in the pantry, ready to stir into roast onions so they make a gravy all shiny and sticky and full of flavour or adding a couple of heaped spoonfuls into a sausage casserole or vegetable soup.