2020 is proving a bonanza year for many fruiting trees – and a trip to the New Forest this week reinforced this news. There are hundreds of crab-apple trees just loaded to dripping point with crab apples – more than the Commoners livestock and deer will probably pick up. So, Dad and I helped by foraging a few for ourselves.
I was surprised when a couple of ladies picking blackberries (also still in good supply) asked where we going to make Crab Apple Jelly, how did we eat it, and what does it taste like. Obviously not all fellow foragers are crab-apple aware! So, for posterity, because I’m forgetful, and in case it helps anyone else, here’s what we do.
I’ve doubled up with some notes on making hot apple juice into Mint Jelly as an alternative additional ‘savoury’ jelly which is great with lamb!
Crab-apple jelly has been a staple throughout my life, in sandwiches, on toast, in the gravy of pot-roasted game, even with the Christmas meats as an alternative to red-currant. It’s sweet, and apple-y (obviously) and varies in colour and quantity depending on the apples, and the year. Some years, the apples are more juicy than others, and different strains of wild crab, or varieties of garden grown crabs, come in different flesh colours. So in our haul this week, we have wild crab apples, a few of a ‘domestic’ columnar crab apple (Malus) called “Laura” which is a deep plummy colour. Dad planted Laura in his garden 2 years ago, alongside an early crab (and heavy cropper) called “John Downie” that’s already been jammed!
Dad and I are rather imprecise, perhaps lazy, cooks. So standard practice is not to cut up the crabs – the skins split quite happily on their own once the water is boiling. However, the “Laura” are a chunky fruit for a crab, with such amazing flesh colour which will deepen the colour of the jelly, that I have halved them to help their colour permeate the pulp produced. You’re meant to bring it to the boil gently… but I’ve not really got time for that sort of faff either!
Thinking about it, washing them and taking the stalks off is probably also approved of in polite circles, but since these were (largely) hand-picked, and that also adds time to a lengthy process, I, er, don’t normally. We also tend to take the spud-basher to them once they start to soften, ‘to help the pulping process along’ you understand.
When Dad makes crab-apple jelly, he using completes this stage in the evening, and leaves it overnight, so that the actual jelly making happens in the morning after the mush has had plenty of time to drain through. I got back from his place too late last night for that, so this is being left to drain until early evening, when there is a second pair of hands to help un-string and catch the muslins without dunking them in the juice! The drained pulp gets composted.
It’s worth noting that to this point, the process is exactly the same when making Mint Jelly, at least to the point of bringing the apple juice back to the boil. However when we did this earlier in the summer (10th August) we used various bought and scavenged cooking apples.
The main bit of measuring comes next, as the sum goes: 1pint of juice to 1lb of sugar (because I’m old fashioned in my measuring), slowly adding the sugar to the juice as you gently warm it up on the stove again. Tonight I had 5.5pints of juice. You can’t rush this bit – if you try you end up with burnt sugar on the bottom of the pan, and a nasty mess.
Sometimes, like this time, you end up with considerable scum on the top – more so than with blackcurrant or similar jam. Tonight, there was perhaps more scum than normal, as there was a slight handling error getting the pulp into the compost. But we don’t waste it! It will taste delicious even if it looks a bit grim.
Tonight, I got set after 10 minutes at the first try of the ‘cold plate in the freezer’ trick! In fact I suspect it was setting before it came to rolling boil but I wanted to make sure I got as much scum up and off as I could to get a good clear jelly. I suspect I could have got away with giving the apples a little more water with the apples right back at the beginning this morning, but it made things quicker tonight, so I’m not complaining. (Not enough) jars had been pre-warmed at 100c in the oven whilst it was boiling. Lids are screwed tight immediately, and a while later they should ‘pop’ loudly as they cool.
Back in the summer with the Mint Jelly, we simply stripped all the leaves from our mint plant, chopped them as finely as we could, and added them to the (much paler) jelly juice, once we knew we’d reached setting point.
If read all this, well done! We hope it is helpful. Enjoy making the most of whatever apple crop you’ve got, foraged, or otherwise!