It’s that time again, when the crabapples are bursting with potential, weighing down branches and practically shouting my name!
Normally I don’t make jelly. I like to make conserves and jams, because when you make jelly you take only the juice, discard the fruit pulp, and add sugar. Since you discard the possible pectin when you discard the fruit pulp, it usually takes more sugar to set a jelly, and I like low sugar canning whenever possible.
That’s not the case with crabapple jelly. You only need to add sugar until the juice is pleasantly tart, but not sweet, and there will be plenty of pectin in the juice.
While jelly-making can be time consuming and fraught with too many variables to be predictable, crabapple jelly is probably the simplest jelly to make.
First, pick a couple quarts of crabapples. I picked these crabapples in a neighbor’s yard (by invitation). I haven’t ever seen such large juicy crabapples! Don’t worry if yours aren’t quite as big.
There are many varieties of crabapples, and some taste better than others. Use fruit from unsprayed trees. If yours are hard, remove stems, and chop coarsely in a food processor if you like.
Remove stems and cut out spots. Halve crabapples. Put the chopped crabapples in a pot that is large enough so they will not boil over. Now add water to the level of the crabapples in the pot.
Simmer over medium heat with lid for 30 minutes to an hour until crabapples are tender. Don’t simmer until they are mush — you’ll end up with too many solids in the juice. I drain them first through a mesh, and then drip through a jelly bag, but if the mesh is fine enough, or if you want to use cheesecloth, there’s no need to also use the jelly bag.
You will be tempted to push down on the apples in the strainer to get more juice or squeeze the jelly bag but try to refrain, or just give it a tiny squeeze. The more squeezing, the more solids in the juice, the more you will have to strain foam off the top, or the cloudier your resulting jelly.
Let the crabapples drip for several hours, or overnight. Really, don’t get impatient here, or you may lose a lot of pectin.
Collect the juice as it drips. After it has dripped for several hours, you can refrigerate the juice and work with it the next day. Or, you can keep going . . .
This is a picture of a jelly bag. I usually attach it with a hook (made from an opened paper clip) to one of my upper cabinet handles, and center it over a large bowl. They make a stand for jelly bags, but it’s not necessary to get one. If you find you love to make jelly, then it might make sense.
Once you have collected all the juice, you’ll need to measure how many cups you have. For each cup of juice, you’ll be adding between 1/3 cup and 3/4 cup of sugar, depending on how tart you want your jelly, and how tart the crabapples are to start with. The best pan for jelly making is wide at the top, so I use a wok with a flat bottom (cheaper than a jelly making pan). I’ve also made jelly in a regular pot, but you’re looking for a greater width than height when making jelly.
Prepare as many jars as you have of juice. If you have 3 cups of juice, then prepare 3 – 1 cup jars, or 6 1/2 cup jars. I usually prepare one extra. To prepare jars, read over the procedure in my post about canning pickles or use this link to connect to the Ball website.
Pour your juice into a pan, and let it simmer down for about 30 minutes. Try not to boil it. It compromises the flavor. But if you simmer it for a while, it will reduce in volume and get more concentrated in both flavor and pectin.
Don’t reduce by more than 1/2. Then, add sugar to taste. Remember, tart and slightly sweet is good! They are crabapples after all . . . You’ll probably be adding 1/3 – 3/4 cups sugar per original cups of juice, so keep that in mind even after you have reduced the volume.
Simmer the juice and sugar together. It should come to a boil. Foam may come to the top, and you can skim it off with a slotted spoon or sieve spoon. Even after you skim, more foam may come up. After I have skimmed, I usually add a teaspoon of butter. This cuts down on foaming. I’ve made a lot of jelly, and the foam just seems to keep reappearing if you aren’t stirring, so after initial de-foaming, add a little butter, or decide that you don’t need absolutely foam-free jelly.
As you’re de-foaming, the jelly should be getting thicker. I test thickness by using a cold spoon. If you quickly dip a cold spoon to the bottom of the pot and then hold it up high above the steam so that it drips off and back into the pot, it is thin when it drips in single drops. It’s getting thicker when two drops seem to linger before dropping. The next stage is sheeting. When it is sheeting, the two or more drops connect with each other and slide off the spoon together.
Depending on how much pectin is in your juice, how much sugar you are using, and how concentrated your batch is, it may take 10, 20, 30 minutes or so before you get to the sheeting point.
This is when you turn off the heat and ladle the jelly into your clean jars. Be sure to use a funnel and fill to 1/4 inch of the top. Put on the hot seals, and screw on the bands (rings). Then process them in the water bath. This jelly needs about 5 minutes in the boiling water bath, unless you’re at altitude like me, so I process them for 10 minutes. After boiling, remove from heat and let cool.
Here’s a photo of the finished product. Notice the jar on the left is darker. It’s the same apples, but two different batches. In the darker jar, I simmered for longer and the jelly will be a little more concentrated.
You can make this jelly without processing it in canning jars. Just make sure it has boiled to the gel point, and then pour into clean, hot jars. Screw on a lid, and hold in the refrigerator for up to 30 days. If it lasts that long. Use jelly on toast, on top of cream cheese, with grilled meats or fish or even tofu, or do as I do — if no one is looking, dip in a spoon. Ummmmmmm!