Crab apple jelly, delicious and shimmeringly pale pink, is a pretty autumn preserve that makes a perfect gift. Here’s a great small-batch crab apple jelly recipe for less experienced jelly makers. The high level of pectin in crab apples means that getting it to set is straightforward, so don’t be afraid, just give it a go!
The Joy of Jelly
I love making jellies, like this gorgeous crab apple jelly. There’s minimal chopping to be done and no time wasted peeling, coring or stoning.
One of my abiding childhood memories is of my mother making jams, jellies and preserves. I particularly remember jelly making; the jelly bag full of cooked fruit hanging from an upturned stool on the kitchen worktop, with the juice first running through in a steady steam. The drips would get slower and slower, eventually stopping as the mixture strained. I would watch fascinated as that last tantalizing drop resisted gravity and clung to the bottom of the bag.
My mother would tell me, “Do NOT poke the jelly bag,” as that would lead to cloudy jelly. As mother, as daughter: the cry “Do NOT poke the jelly bag” has now been uttered from my lips to visitors to my kitchen. They were getting a little too close for my comfort!
Crab apple jelly is particularly easy to make, as the fruit is full of pectin and sets well, so this is a great recipe for beginners. Just don’t poke the bag!
What is a Crab Apple?
Crab or wild apples are small tart fruit, smaller and much less sweet than the larger cultivated forms of apple. These older, wilder forms of apples are often found in gardens as the blossom and fruit look very attractive. However, all too often the fruit are left unpicked and fall to rot under the tree. You don’t tend to find the fruit in the supermarket but you can often find them growing wild on the edge of woodland on a country walk. You may well find them in a farm shop too.
Depending on the variety, crab apples can vary between the size of a cherry and the size of plum. The skin colour ranges from red to pale yellow.
Crab apple jelly is usually a beautiful salmon pink colour (although the batch from rosy red apples I made this year was a deep wine red). I love having some in the store cupboard. It goes well with pork instead of apple sauce and is equally delicious on toast or bread as a sweet treat. We like to make the leftover fruit pulp into a crab apple membrillo to eat with cheese (see the bonus recipe at the end).
Where Can I Get Crab Apples?
If you are lucky, you or a friend will will have a tree in your garden. If not, you may find a wild tree in a local hedgerow. As always with foraging, don’t pick next to busy roads and make sure you have the landowner’s permission. There are lots of different varieties of tree, so the fruit can range in colour from yellow through to red.
Crab Apple Jelly Recipe
Step One – Wash the crab apples, and chop each one in half. Cut out any bruises. Place in a saucepan, and add water to cover about 3/4 of the fruit.
Step Two – Heat on the hob until just boiling. Cover with a lid to minimize evaporation. Then simmer gently for about 40 minutes, until the fruit is soft.
If the fruit is yellow and pale, you can add a handful of redcurrants to make the final jelly a pretty pink colour.
Step Three – Strain the liquid from the fruit pulp. Fill the jelly bag or muslin with the fruit, and leave it to strain into a jug or bowl for about 12 hours – overnight is perfect. You can weigh your bowl or jug beforehand and make a note, as this will make it easier to check the weight of the strained juice.
To ensure your crab apple jelly is beautifully clear, just let it drip out. Do NOT poke or squeeze the bag.
Straining the Fruit
The easiest way of doing this is by hanging a jelly bag above a large bowl. An upturned stool, chair or small table is perfect for this if you don’t have a jelly bag stand.
If you don’t have a jelly bag, you can use a muslin cloth. Lay it flat on the counter, heap the fruit in the middle, and bring the corners together over the pile of fruit. Tie the corner ends securely to make a bag. You can then tie some string around the knotted ends to allow you to suspend it from a frame.
Both jelly bags and muslin cloths for jelly making can be found in large supermarkets, kitchen supplies stores and craft shops.
Step Four – Weigh the liquid and then add three quarters of weight liquid in sugar. You may find it easier to put the saucepan on the scales, set them to zero and weight the ingredients in the pan. Make sure you use a good sized saucepan that is will take twice the volume of liquid that you are going to use.
Crab apples are very sour, so they do need a lot of sugar. Don’t be tempted to cut back.
Step Five– Prepare clean jam jars by placing them in an oven heated to 140°C/275°F/GM1 to sterilize. I like to do this in a deep roasting dish, as this makes getting the hot jars out of the oven much easier. Keep the jars standing in the pan. In the unlikely event that a jar cracks when you fill it, the roasting pan will catch the hot liquid jelly.
Step Six – Put the pan on the hob and heat the juice gently to dissolve the sugar. Once it starts to simmer, a foam scum may form on top. Scoop off the foam with a slotted spoon; this removes any impurities and makes for a clearer jelly.
Step Six – Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat so that the liquid is boiling rapidly. Start testing to see if it’s ready to set.
Setting Point Tests
Drop a teaspoonful of the liquid onto one of your chilled plates and leave it for a few seconds. Then push the drop of jelly with your fingernail to see whether the jelly wrinkles. If it does, your crab apple jelly will set and can be transferred into the hot jars and sealed.
The other ways to test are to watch the temperature of the boiling liquid. Keep boiling until it reaches 105°C – the setting point. You can use a jam thermometer for this; they’re easily available and not expensive.
The third method to test the set is the flake test. Take a spoonful of jelly from the saucepan, and turn the spoon vertically so that the jelly runs out. When the jelly has started to thicken, a flake of jelly will hang from the edge of the spoon, showing that you have reached the setting point.
Step Seven – Fill the jam jars with the hot jelly. I use a glass jug and a jam funnel. Tighten the lid onto each jar, taking care as they are very hot. As the jelly cools, a vacuum will form and the lids will pop.
Allow to cool completely before enjoying!
Hints and Tips for Making Crab Apple Jelly
- Don’t overcook the fruit, or the flavour of the final jelly will be lost. Simmer the crab apples gently, with a lid on the saucepan.
- Never poke or squeeze the bag, as this will result in cloudy jelly.
- If your fruit needs cooking but you don’t have time to make the jelly right away, cover the juice and leave it in the fridge, where it will keep for a few days. Alternatively, freeze the juice and defrost to make the jelly when you are ready.
- For best results, tap the jam jar as you fill it, so that any air bubbles come out. Put the lids back on the jars while still hot, to help seal them tight.
- If your fruit is pale yellow, you can add a few redcurrants to the fruit as it cooks to give the popular pale pink colour to your crab apple jelly. Crab apples come in many different colours, so the jelly can vary from pale yellow through to dark red.
- Use white sugar – granulated, caster. You don’t need preserving sugar as there is plenty of pectin in crab apples.
This is a very rough guide, as crab apples will yield a differing amount of juice depending on variety, ripeness and size. Nevertheless, you can estimate that with this crab apple jelly recipe, about 1 kg of fruit will produce around 4–5 jars.
Crab Apple Membrillo Recipe
This is a wonderful bonus recipe for whenever you make the crab apple jelly recipe! If you are lucky enough to have a plenty of crab apples, you could make a crab apple membrillo or cheese, similar to the quince cheese, when you make your crab apple jelly. It’s a great way to use up the fruit pulp that would otherwise go to waste.
Step 1 – After straining the crab apples for jelly, pass the pulp through a sieve to separate out the pips and pieces of skin. You could use a rotating mouli sieve here. Add a splash of the unsweetened juice to loosen the pulp a little.
Step 2 – Weigh the puree and add an equal amount of sugar and some lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon per two cups of puree). Transfer to a saucepan and bring the mixture to the boil.
Step 3 – Once boiling, turn the heat down to a low simmer. Cook slowly until the mixture is thick enough to leave the bottom of the saucepan visible for a few seconds when you scrape a wooden spoon across it.
Step 4 – Transfer the mixture to shallow trays. Allow to cool, and then keep in the fridge before eating with a good sharp cheese.
Crab Apple Jelly
- crab apples ((see recipe for quantities))
- water ((see recipe for quantities))
- sugar ((see recipe for quantities))
Preparing the Fruit
- Wash the crab apples and cut in half, cutting off any bruises. Place in a large pan and add water to cover ¾ of the fruit. Bring to the boil. Then put the lid on the pan and gently simmer for about 40 minutes until the fruit has turned to a pulp.
- Hang a jelly bag or cloth securely from a stand, with a large bowl underneath the bag. Using a jug, pour the fruit pulp and liquid into the bag and leave to strain for 12 hours. Do not poke, prod or push the pulp to speed the straining, as this will make the finished jelly cloudy.
Making the Jelly
- Put your jam jars and lids in the oven heated to 140°C/275°F/Gas Mark 1 to warm and sterilize them. If using the wrinkle test for setting, place a plate in the freezer.
- Weigh the strained juice and add an equal weight of sugar.
- Gently simmer in a large pan to dissolve the sugar. As the juice simmers, foam and scum will rise to the surface. Skim this off with a slotted spoon to remove impurities and keep the jelly clear. Keep a large bowl of cold water next to the hob to rinse the spoon off.
- Turn up the the heat When the liquid has reached a rolling boil, start testing for the set by one of these three methods.
Testing the Setting Point
- The wrinkle method. Chill a plate in the freezer. Spoon a teaspoon of the boiling jelly onto the plate and let it cool; this will only take a few seconds. Push your finger through the jelly and look for it to wrinkle ahead of your finger.
- Temperature. Use a jam thermometer to test for when the jam reaches 105°C.
- The flake test. Test the jelly by taking a spoonful of jelly – a long-handled metal spoon is best. Tip up the spoon to pour the jelly back into the pan, and watch the behaviour of the last few drops. When the last drops hang off the spoon in a flake, the jelly has reached its setting point.
Finishing the Jelly
- Once setting point is reached, remove the jelly from the heat and take the warm jars and lids from the oven. Give the jelly one last skim to remove the foam and scum.
- Let the jelly stand for a few minutes. Then pour the jelly into the jars, quickly skim each jar using a tea spoon and seal down with the dry lids while still hot.
- As the jars cool, each lid will pop to show that they're sealed properly – I always find this most satisfying to hear as I enjoy my tea and first taste!
Post originally published September 2007, updated with new photos, step by step instructions and hints and tips August 2020.