My neighbour Beth has a crab apple tree in her front yard. It shades the front porch and every fall it hangs low and heavy with tiny, beautiful fruit.
When my friend Nicole said her neighbour had made a delicious crab apple jelly and hot pepper jelly, she wanted to try making it too. And I had a source.
So last week Nicole, our friend Raquel, and I got together in Nic's kitchen. Cutting up a shopping bag full of apples - about 12 pounds, MacGyver'ing a suspension system to drain the apples, and having my first experience with a candy thermometer.
What did I learn from making crab apple jelly? A few things. First, crab apples are awfully pretty when you cut them open. Second, don't run your finger through the hot jelly to see if it's set. Read the recipe. And, third, even when you follow directions to the letter it won’t necessarily work out. Then, when you break the rules, sometimes, you make it better. You'll see what I mean.
Crab Apple Jelly
4lbs crab apples
6 cups water
3 cups sugar
Wash the apples and quarter them. Put them in a large pot and add the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until very soft, 45 to 60 minutes. Place two layers of cheesecloth in the bottom of a large bowl with the ends of the cheesecloth hanging over the edge of the bowl. Carefully pour the apples into the bowl, and pick up the ends of the cheesecloth, tying them into knots, and lifting the apple/cheesecloth bundle.
Now you need to suspend the bundle over the bowl to allow the juice to come out - without pressing the apples. The recipe recommended suspending the bundle on a wooden spoon over the bowl, but that didn't work for us. We got all Macgyver-y and used Nicole's paper towel holder on one side, her coffee maker on the other, and suspended the bundles on a rod from her garden. Let them drain for an hour. You should end up with about 4 cups.
Place the juice in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, skimming the foam. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Cook until your candy thermometer reaches 220°F. Pour into jars, let cool and refrigerate for up to six months.
Now...this didn't quite do it for us. We each ended up with three half pint jars of syrup instead of jelly. We sighed and moved on. Except for Nicole. The next day I got an email from her saying how much it was bugging her that the jelly hadn't set. So, she wrote, she threw the syrup back into a pot and boiled it for between 10-15 minutes. Then she poured it back into the jars and voila, perfect jelly. So I gave it a try too and yes. It worked.
Hot Pepper Jelly
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
2 tbsp minced, seeded, hot chile pepper
1 1/2 cups sugar
Put some small plates in the freezer. You'll use them to test the jelly later. Put the apples and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer. Cook until fruit is very soft, 10 to 15 minutes, mash with a potato masher. (We used the rest of our crab apples, and found it took longer.) Again drain the fruit by laying two layers of cheesecloth in a bowl and pouring the apples into the bowl, lift the ends of the cheesecloth and tie into a bundle. Strain the fruit, suspending it over the bowl, without pressing on the fruit. This time you leave the fruit to drain for four hours...use your judgement on this...we felt it was too long.
Then put the juice in a saucepan and add the vinegar, salt, bell pepper, and hot pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the sugar, bring it back to the boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Continue stirring for 11 minutes. Turn off the heat. Now it's time for the chilled plate from the freezer. Pour a tiny spoonful onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute (which we didn't do until we re-read the recipe - and my finger has the burns to prove it...yikes). Push your finger through the jelly, it should wrinkle. If it does, it's done. If it doesn't, put it back on to boil. If you're using a candy thermometer, the recipe says it should reach 221°F. Skim foam from the top.
Either ladle, or if you have a funnel, pour into clean jars leaving 3/4" headroom. Let it cool completely and then refrigerate up to one month.
So overall, a little fussy, not too difficult, and quite delicious...and we got to break a few rules.