Sunday, September 13, 2015

Crab Apple Jelly

I was watering my garden a few days ago and noticed how heavy the branches of my crab apple tree was with fruits.  I've tried eating them fresh in the past at various stage of maturity (talking about the wee apples, not myself here) and found them extremely tart with strong astringency (like you would taste from certain berries like chokecherry, banana skin, or concord grape skin or over-steeped tea) that linger on and on.  I had all but given up on eating, but kept coming across people mentioning crab apple jellies.  The tree was so heavy with fruits and they are just dropping onto the ground, fermenting and enriching the soil...  I finally had to look into how to make jellies with this stuff because this abundance surely should not be wasted!  (Although I've read that bees and wasps like sucking the juice from the fermenting fruits, which can have alcohol from fermentation.  :D )

This tree is the undisputed star of my front yard in spring.  It gets covered with frothy pink flowers and burgundy buds before the tree leafs out.  I planted this tree when it was just 3 1/2 feet tall and had to wait a few seasons before it finally flowered.  Ever since, it's been unstoppable.

I asked Jr. to help me pick these baby apples.  We filled a large popcorn bowl.  Then cut the blossom end and removed the stem together in the kitchen.  It was tedious, but we had fun.  It felt good to be taking what nature provides and making something with the bounty.

We filled the pan with halved apples and filled with water to cook.  At this point, we were still debating whether to make crab apple jelly or crab apple jam.  We were leaning toward jam because we both like the texture (and the fiber content) of jam,  and we did see a video on YouTube of someone actually making crab apple jam, but the apples in the video looked more like wild apple (just a smaller version of what you'd find in market, not like our crab apples - ours look almost like cherries).

Once I started heating the crab apples with water to cook, I kept tasting the juice and the solid at different stages.  I soon came to the conclusion that it's the skin and pulp that contain so much tannin that if we tried to make a jam, it's going to taste just awful.  ^^;

So I start looking up recipes online for Crab Apple Jelly for sure.  So many slightly different versions, some with a lot of sugar, some with pectin added, some without.  Confusing enough for a first time jelly maker.  ^^;  In the end, I went with the recipe I found on BBC Good Food site.  It was simple and straight forward.

I'm not a big sweets person, so wasn't sure if I'd be able to use much of what I was making, but I figured that if the jelly turns out well, I could share with friends and neighbors.  :D  How lovely would that be?  I ended up doing a lot of tasting and jelly set tests during the boiling down stage after we added sugar to the juice we collected after the initial cook and then straining to separate all the solids.  The juice was a lovely blush pink, but adding sugar changed the color of solution to deep rose.  I was surprised, but still delighted by the beauty of the unexpected color.

I got Jr. to help me once again when the hot jelly was ready for pouring.  We purchased these cute 4 oz. Ball jars and got them ready based on directions we read on how to can jelly.  Isn't it such a pretty color?  The exact shade is less orange and more of a rich rose, but it's so hard to capture.  This photo was taken in the morning when they were still resting in the windowsill after being there overnight.     Still waiting for the 24 to 48 hour set time to expire as I write this before I eagerly open one of these jars to take a look.  I hope it turns out nicely, so we won't be discouraged from trying this again.  Not to mention being able to share with friends and neighbors!