Saturday, October 5, 2013

Country Crabapple Jelly

I just love discovering new things I can use on my own property.  I was mowing along the property line and discovered that hidden in the "wild" corner that we have been happy to turn over to the birds and bunnies, a crabapple tree sprung to life and was full of ripe fruit.  It took me back to the days of my aunt and I spending the summer riding our horses all over the county.  

One of our favorite spots was an abandoned gravel pit a few miles away on a sparsely populated dirt road.  It was one of those spots hidden between roads where, if you didn't know how to find its hidden little trail, you would never know it was there.  Because of the distance from my grandparents house, we often disappeared down there for the whole day - just coming home at dusk after all the big hills and valleys had been conquered.  Rarely did we prepare for the day with food but the tart little wild crabapples, black raspberries and sweet purple clover heads were just enough to keep us satisfied....

Back to my present day discovery, I decided that a crabapple jelly would be the perfect challenge and something fun for the kids and I to make.  This time of year its a good thing to try to keep a box or two of Sure-Jell or whatever pectin you like on hand for such opportunities.  I picked just this one large mixing bowl full of crabapples and washed them up.  Now this post might seem like a lot of steps but it really isn't difficult and each part doesn't take very long.

I sliced them in half (try to remove as much of the stem as you can but you don't have to be fussy) and tossed them in a large pot, seeds and all.  I added enough water to just come to the top of the apples and simmered them about 20 minutes until they were broken down.  While they are boiling, this is a good time to clean and sterilize your jelly jars and lids and set aside on a clean dish towel nearby.  

After they were cooled enough to handle, the kids helped me strain them.  First, we used a mesh strainer and scooped everything into that.  This will give you a very pulpy juice.  Then we rinsed the strainer and lined it with a thin, smooth kitchen towel (the non-fuzzy kind like you might cover dough with).  We ran the juice from the first drain through it first.  I used a spatula to keep scraping the bottom to encourage the juice to go through.  Now your juice should be pulp free.  After the juice drained through, I was still left with a bunch of pulp.  I twisted the towel into a bag around the pulp and squeezed to get the rest of the juice out.  I tossed out the pulp and rinsed the towel.  I returned the towel to the strainer and placed the bigger chunks in it and repeated the step of twisting the towel shut and squeezing the rest of the juice out of that pulp.  

Measure out your juice to see how much you have.  I ended up with 4 cups.  The Sure-Jell package (original, not the reduced sugar kind) has a recipe for crabapple jelly that called for a ratio of 7 cups of crabapple juice to 9 cups of sugar.  After doing a bit of practicing fractions and percentages with my 5th grader, we came to the conclusion that 5 cups of sugar and roughly half the package of Sure-Jell should do the trick.  Because you cooked down your apples with the skin on, your juice will have some of its own natural pectin and that will help your jelly to set.  If you are worried that you may not have enough pectin, you can add another teaspoon of pectin or cook your jelly an extra minute.

So I took my 4 cups of crabapple juice and added the 1/2 box of pectin in a large pot and whisked together.  Bring this to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Add your sugar - in my case 5 cups - all at once and stir or whisk until dissolved.  Bring your jelly to a rolling boil again, stirring constantly, and once it reaches that rolling boil you need to cook it for 1-2 minutes while stirring.  Remove from heat and stir for a minute while the foam settles.  Mine is very bubbly - not sure if its because I whisked it too much or what but it looks like pink champagne and did not affect the "set" so I'm OK with it.  Skim any major foam and place in a "dump" bowl.  

Take your prepared jelly jars and fill them with about an inch of space from the top.  Wipe the rims and sides clean with a hot damp cloth.  Place the lids on and tighten the rings as tight as you can.  Place all your filled jars in your canner.  Make sure the water is at least an inch above your jars.  Bring water to a boil and process for about 5 minutes.  Remove the jars and set aside to cool.  As the jars cool, you will hear the buttons on the lids pop.  Leave them alone to cool overnight before putting them away but once the lid does not "bounce" when you push the center it is sealed.  If you have any that don't seal, store them in your fridge and eat them first.  

This recipe made 8 - 8 oz. jelly jars and 1 - 4 oz. jelly jar for me.  The jam itself is a refreshing change of pace from your usual very sweet jams - this one starts with the hint of sweet and ends with a bit of tart.  Happy foraging!

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