Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crabapple Jelly

You may recall from an earlier post about cider that we have a wonderful supply of crabapples here on the farm. Each year I try to squirrel away enough of these tart gems to make jelly. The juice is so good for making tasty cider that it can be a challenge to keep them from all going into the press. Last year, I tried making do with the pomace that was left after the press had extracted juice for cider but all I got was very cloudy jelly that didn't taste nearly as good as the previous year's.

After washing and stemming the apples, the next step was to quarter them. You'd think that wouldn't be so bad with little apples but these boogers are hard! They also stain like crazy. The flesh looks white when you cut into it but it quickly turns orange-red. After a couple of hours of chopping, the skin on my hands looked like someone had colored in every line and wrinkle with henna. The chopped crabs went into a pot with some water and boiled until the flesh was soft.

I don't have a picture for the next step because it is just too messy and requires too much coordination for me to manage the camera, too. I strained the resulting juice and fruit through several layers of cheesecloth, trying not to burn my hands from the steam (note to self: don't make evening plans on the day you're making jelly so you have time to let the fruit cool a bit before straining). Also, this time I resisted the urge to squeeze the fruit to extract every last bit of juice--it makes for cloudy jelly. I ended up with lovely, clear juice--not as deep red as some years, but pretty nonetheless. That went into a saucepan and got boiled to within an inch of its life.

Hmmm....that does a nice job of showing bubbles but not the pretty juice. Let's try this one:

Better. From here it was mostly a matter of trying to get the temperature up to jelly stage on my candy thermometer without the whole thing boiling over. Each year I struggle with getting the timing right. The first time I waited too long and the jelly set up like fruit leather. The next time I took it off too soon and ended up with, well, juice. The third time was just right. Still, I don't feel that I really know why. Temperature hasn't been a great indicator, though that may be a function of having a cheap and probably inaccurate thermometer. I have yet to perfect the spoon test, never having achieved the ideal sheeting action.  I decided to err on the side of less jelling, figuring I could always redo the process if it came out too runny. So juice went into jars and they, in turn, into the canner for a water bath.

In the final analysis, this year's jelly was a bit on the underformed side. It started to set up but is a bit runny. Still, after a day in the fridge, it was good enough for home use, so I didn't bother to redo it this time. And the flavor is fantastic. This year, I followed the recipe and used the full amount of sugar so someone other than me (the lover of tart fruit) would enjoy eating it. I think I'll do another batch for giving away and see if I can get the texture up to socially-acceptable levels, too.

If anyone has a recommendation for a good, accurate candy thermometer, I'd love to hear it. Candy-making season is almost here and I would love to go into caramel and sponge candy making mode with confidence.


  1. Awesome, Alison! Those are some gorgeous jars of jelly. I made peach preserves this year that never set up, but they are so good on oatmeal, ice cream... basically, no trouble at all finding a way to eat them!

  2. Extremely late on this, but the issue may not be temp but pectin content which can vary from season to season and variety to variety ... That's why so many canners use store bought pectin instead of making their own these days