Wild Crabapple Jelly
At this time of year, the crabapples are probably just about dropping – further down south, in my sister’s garden in Kent, they’ve been dropping for about a month or so now, and after a recent visit we drove back with kilos of the things in the back of the car.
Too tart (normally) to eat raw, their high pectin count renders them perfect for making jelly – pectin is a plant sugar which is used as a gelling agent, and is what causes jams to set and jellys to, well, jellify.
The basic recipe couldn’t be easier – gather a kilo or so of crabapples and chop them into halves, quarters or eighths, depending on how large they are and how much you can be bothered. Don’t bother coring them, as you’ll get the pips and stalks out later.
Whack them in a large pan, cover them with water and bring them to the boil. Stir every now and then until the whole lot turns into a mushy pulp. Then pass the pulp through a muslin bag – if you want a clear jelly (most people do) then don’t force it through, but instead allow it to drip through overnight until you’re left with the dry pulp and a lot of clear apple liquid.
Pop four or so sideplates in the fridge (we’ll come back to them later) then measure out the amount of liquid you’ve ended up with, write it down somewhere, and return the liquid to the pan and boil it, reducing it by about half. Then add 450g of sugar to each 600ml of liquid and stir it until the sugar dissolves. Keep stirring and keep boiling until the setting point is reached.
You’ll often hear a setting point talked about in mythical terms – all it means is that the liquid has reached a consistency such that, when it cools back to room temperature you’ll end up with an actually jelly, and not a liquid or (worse) a thick paste. To check, simply take one of the sideplates out of the fridge and poor a little bit of the juice onto it from the pan. Pop it back in the fridge for a minute or so to allow the juice to cool, then get it out and run your finger through it. If the liquid bunches up as your finger passes through it (it’s kind of difficult to reduce to words, but imagine the skin on cold custard) then a setting point has been reached and you can take the jelly off the heat. If not, carry on boiling for another couple of minutes and test again (that’s why there are four sideplates in the fridge).
When ready, jar the jelly up into sterilised jars, lid and label.
That’s the basic recipe and the basic idea – as ever, though, feel free to do as you wish with it. Herbs, such as rosemary or mint, can be put in with the apples at the outset to introduce more flavour, or for a more seasonal twist why not try using half the quantity of crabapples and making up the difference in sloes. Or alternatively try adding a bottle of cider to the juice (remember to factor in the quantity of cider added when calculating how much sugar to add!). The possibilities are pretty much endless.