CRAB APPLES are one of those wild-growing fruits that often remain untouched on the tree but they actually make a delicious jelly that bridges the gap between savoury and sweet.
The apples we grow or buy are descendants of wild crab apples, which are usually found along hedgerows or in woods and untouched spaces. A handy tip is that if there are rowan trees in an area it’s likely that you will find a crab apple tree nearby.
We’ve made crab apple jelly on a couple of occasions but this year we decided to adapt our usual recipe by adding cloves to give it just a hint of spice. We like the jelly on bread or scones, but it can also be used with meats like pork or turkey, depending on your personal taste.
Picking crab apples
We have four trees growing within easy walking distance of our home so on October 31 all four of us headed off – Ava (11), Becca (8) and I persuaded John to go with us as we’d decided to use his shoulders in lieu of a step ladder!
While Becca and John focused on the higher-up apples I picked from lower branches and Ava hunted for windfalls. In no time we had filled a shopping bag, with plenty left on the tree for birds and other wildlife. After we got home and had breakfast, Becca was put in charge of sorting and cleaning 4lbs worth of crab apples while Ava and I got our jelly-making equipment ready.
Crab apples for jelly
Before you start making any kind of jelly or jam make sure that you have enough jars washed and sterilised (we clean jars in a cold fan oven that heats up to 140 degrees for at least 30 minutes). But don’t use a crazy amount of jars either, because unlike jam, where the entire fruit is boiled and jarred, only the liquid is used for jelly while the fruit is a by-product.
Equipment-wise, ideally you need a maslin pan (I got ours on sale in a local supermarket) but any large, heavy-bottomed pot will do. You could also use a jam thermometer (the jelly will need to reach 220 degrees Fahrenheit to set) or the cold saucer method, although we’ve had mixed success with the latter. Finally, you will also need a muslin jelly bag.
Ingredients for crab apple jelly
The basic ingredients are very simple to remember – for every 4lbs of apples you will need 2 pints of boiling water. Because the crab apples contain pectin there’s no need for lemons. Don’t be too worried about marks on the skin, as long as the fruit is healthy the jelly will not be affected. If you are making a spicy version then choose the spice you prefer, eg cloves, cinnamon, mixed spice or mulled wine sachets.
Method for making crab apple jelly
After the crab apples are washed put them into your blender (only fill to about a third at a time) and give them a solid blitz. When that’s done add them to the boiling water. If you’re using a spice add it at this stage (we used three cloves in 4lbs of apples, resulting in a subtly-flavoured jelly).
Bring the mix to the boil and leave to simmer for an hour at the very least. When you’re happy that the apples been boiled down enough, give them a good mashing, and then, using a ladle, spoon the mush into your muslin bag.
We used 2 long brush handles, resting on the base of our clothes horse, to hang the bag over a wide pot or bowl (make sure whatever container you are using to collect the juice is wide and deep enough to avoid unnecessary mess). Then just leave it to drip overnight.
The following morning, you’ll find the apple mush has finished dripping, if you don’t mind cloudy jelly you can squeeze the bag to get more liquid, but we wanted ours to be clear.
Put the liquid back into the cleaned pot, adding 1lb of sugar for every pint, and slowly heat up so that the sugar melts without burning. Once the melting process is completed vigorously boil the liquid until it reaches the right temperature (or you are happy with its consistency on a cold saucer). Immediately pour your jelly into the sterilised jars and seal shut.
If you’re aiming for a stronger clove flavour then you could add one into each jar before sealing shut.
It’s probably also worth mentioning that crab apples do not yield very much jelly. Our 4lbs got us 4 small jars. That said, the faster you consume crab apple jelly the better as it tends to solidify if left too long in the cupboard!
If you’re keen to find out more about crab apples and try other recipes then it’s worth having a look at a Wild and Slow website that I recently came across.
Since we set up our blog in March 2016 we’ve had a great time sharing recipes that we’ve used over the years. If you fancy learning more about the kinds of things we’ve done – cordials, syrups, lemonade, baked goods etc – then please take a look at our blog by clicking here. You’ll be able to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and remember we love hearing from anyone with ideas and recipes they think might suit us. Happy Preserving!