Delicious crab apple jelly, shimmeringly pale pink, reminds me of my childhood.
Of all the preserves, jelly really ticks my fuss free boxes thanks to minimal chopping and no time consuming peeling, coring or stoning.
I’m now also a convert to small batch preserving, and here’s a great recipe for less experienced jam makers. The high levels of pectin in crab apples means that getting it to set is straightforward so don’t be afraid, just give it a go!
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 on an upturned stool on the kitchen worktop with the juice first running through in a steady steam, and then the drips getting slower and slower and eventually stopping as the mixture strained, and watching that last tantalizing drop that resisted gravity and clung to the bottom of the bag.
My mother would tell me “NOT to 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 who have looked as if they might be getting a little too close to it for my comfort.
Crab or wild apples are small tart fruit, trees literally dripping with crab apples are often found in gardens as they look attractive, all too often the fruit are left picked and fall and are left to rot under the tree.
Crab apple jelly is a beautiful salmon pink colour which I greatly enjoy having in the store cupboard; it goes well with pork in place of apple sauce and is equally delicious on toast or bread.
How to Make Crab Apple Jelly
Step One – Wash the crab apples, and chop each one in half. Cut out any bruising. Place in a sauce pan, and add water to cover about 3/4 of the fruit. Heat on the hob until just boiling, and then simmer gently for 40 minutes or so until the fruit is soft. Cover with a lid to minimize evaporation.
Step Two – Strain the liquid from the fruit pulp. The easiest way of doing this is by supporting 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 and tie up the corners. Fill the bag with the fruit, and leave it to strain for 12 hours or so – overnight is perfect. As I’ve said, for perfectly clear jelly don’t poke or squeeze the bag.
Step three – add the sugar. I find the easiest way to work out how much to add is to weigh the liquid and then add an equal weight of sugar. Crab apples are very sour, so do need a lot of sugar. Make sure you use a good sized saucepan – at least twice the volume of liquid.
Step four – heat the juice to dissolve the sugar. As it simmers, foam will form on top. Scoop off the foam with a slotted spoon; this removes impurities and makes for an even clearer jelly.
Step five – once the sugar has dissolved, the jelly is ready to be set. Prepare the clean jam jars by placing then in an oven heated to 140C/275F/GM1. Heat up the liquid until boiling rapidly, and start testing to see if it’s set. Crab apples contain a lot of pectin, so
Hints and Tips for Making 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 the jelly will go cloudy
- If you run out of time then freeze the juice before turning it into jelly. Or cover and leave in the fridge for a few days.
- For the absolute best results, tap the jam jar as you fill it so the air bubbles come out.
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
- 1) 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.
- 2) Temperature. Use a jam thermometer to test for when the jam reaches 105°C.
- 3) 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, re-shot (with a 2007 vintage jar of jelly) and updated October 2017.