Once we got our crab apple cider vinegar made up and set aside to ferment, it was time to turn to the rest of the crab apples!
The apples had been cleaned and left to soak in cold water with vinegar overnight. The extra time allows for any damage and bruising to the apples to be easier to see.
The next steps were to remove the stems, then cut the apples. These crab apples are small enough that I just cut them in half.
This was the time to cut out any damaged bits – or remove some apples completely.
There were quite a few that looked fine on the outside, only to be bad in the middles. The above photo is what I removed from the apples, including the small batch I used for the apple cider vinegar.
Just a little something for the compost pile. 🙂
As I have some of our choke cherries and sour cherries in the freezer, I decided to make several small batches, including spiced jelly. Some of the recipes I saw said to cook and strain the apples first, cook the juices with the other additions, strain them again, then make the jelly.
I had no interest in cooking and straining these twice, and saw no reason to. Instead, I divided the cut up apples into three pots. I had two medium sized pots plus my smaller stock pot, so after I filled the two smaller ones, any left over apples went into the bigger pot. My smaller pots each held about 6 cups of chopped apples, and the bigger pot had about 7 cups of apples.
I then made my additions.
The spiced batch got a couple of cinnamon sticks, 2 pieces of star anise and about a tablespoon of whole cloves. The others got about 1 cup of frozen fruit added.
Next, water was added until the fruit was just covered. They were then brought to a boil, covered and left to simmer until soft.
The pot the choke cherries were in turned out to be just a touch too small, and I had to transfer it to my other stock pot to prevent it from over flowing.
After about 20 minutes or so, I stirred them down to break up the fruit a bit; I had to use a potato masher on the spiced apples, as the pot was too full to stir properly!
I continued to cook them until the fruit was quite soft.
This is the sour cherry batch on the left, choke cherry batch on the right. I forgot to get a picture of the spiced batch before I put it up to strain.
While the apples were cooking, I prepped for straining.
I currently have only one jelly bag, so I lined colanders set over large bowls with cheese cloth.
I used the jelly bag for the spiced mixture and hung it up in my usual spot. By then, I already had over a litre of juice strained out!
I had to get creative to hang the other two. I used one of those wire frames made to hold bags open, like for leaf bags. Thoroughly cleaned, of course. I set it up on the dining table and hung the tied off cheese cloth bags of apple pulp on the frame, with their bowls of juice set up under them and the colanders removed. I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the set up, though.
I then left the bags to drain overnight, though we did cover the various bowls with whatever we had on hand. One got a piece of cheese cloth stretched over it, another bowl was the perfect size for our mesh frying pan splash screen, and the big measuring cup got covered by a large mesh sieve. These all allowed the juices to keep dripping in, while keeping out any dust, cat hair, insects or whatever else might be floating about.
Note: they don’t need to be left overnight, but the pulp should be given at least a couple of hours to drain. Some recipes suggest to squeeze the pulp to extract more juice. This will result in a cloudy jelly, so that’s up to you! 😉
That was all done yesterday. Today, it was time to cook things down!
I did each batch one at a time, rather than all at once, starting with the juice that was already in the measuring cup.
This is the spiced apple pulp from the jelly bag. The pulp all went to the compost pile.
I ended up with almost exactly 5 cups of juice from the spiced apple and the choke cherry batches, and almost exactly 8 cups of the sour cherry batch. For each cup of juice, I added a 3/4 cup of sugar.
Which felt like an insane amount of sugar, but that’s how it works!
Each batch was boiled to the gel stage.
Before I started cooking any of them, though, I started sanitizing my canning jars. With how much juice I ended up with, I knew my dozen 250ml (1 cup) sized jars would not be enough. I decided to use one 500ml (2 cup) for each batch, then use however many of the smaller jars I needed to empty the pot. The larger jars will be for our own use, and the smaller jars can be given out as gifts, if we want.
I also made a discovery.
We have not been able to replace our damaged hot water tank yet, which means it’s still heating the water to extremely high temperatures. I figured I would take advantage of that and use it to sanitize my jars and implements.
I was able to set up all the jars in a large container on the counter near the stove. I was also going to use my candy thermometer, so I dug that out, washed it, then put it into one of the jars to scald. Shortly after, I pulled the candy thermometer out. The whole set up with the water had been sitting for about 5-7 minutes since I added the hot tap water, so I had to do a double take when I saw the thermometer.
It was at almost 100C.
The instructions I was following said to cook the juice and sugar mixture to 210F to reach gel state. My tap water was already hotter than that!!
The juices reached beyond 210F very quickly, so there was no way temperature alone was enough to reach gel stage, so I kept boiling it. After the first testing, I went to wash the thermometer and discovered there was water in it.
Looking closer, I discovered that the glass covering the bulb of the thermometer was gone! For all I know, this is damage from our move. I very rarely use the candy thermometer.
So I threw that out.
Which meant I was checking for the gel state using the *spoon test.
Each batch took me at least half an hour of boiling before it reached the gel stage.
Once each batch was ready, I filled some jars – I added cinnamon sticks to the jars with the spiced jelly – covered them, then set them aside to cool while I washed everything before starting the next batch.
My 8 cups of sour cherry juice mix, and 5 cups of spiced juice mix, each gave me the same number of cups of jelly, but for some reason the 5 cups of chokecherry juice mix resulted in only 4 cups of jelly!
I still don’t have the tools to do a hot water bath, so these are not shelf stable, and will need to be stored in the fridge.
I absolutely love the colours in these!
After they had a chance to cool, my daughters used some when making supper this evening. They made grilled cheese sandwiches with some of the sour cherry jelly spread in with the cheese. It was really good!
Homemade Crab apple jelly, with flavour variations
- cheese cloth or jelly bag
- bowl to drain juices into
- if using cheese cloth, a colander that fits in the bowl
- canning jars, jar funnel and lids, sanitized
- place to hang pulp bag over the bowl
- large saucepan or stock pot with lid
- crab apples, washed, stemmed and chopped. (no need to peel or core)
Optional flavour additions
- about a cup of fruit or berries per 6 cups of chopped crab apples.
- any combination of whole, not ground, spices, including cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice, star anise, etc. to taste.
- Place cleaned and chopped apple pieces into a large pot.
- Add any flavour options desired.
- Add enough water to just cover the fruit. Bring to a boil.
- Cover and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, or until apples are very soft. Stir the fruit every few minutes.
- Mash the mixture with a large spoon or potato masher. Cook for a few more minutes.
- While the mixture is cooking, dampen a jelly bag and ready a bowl to catch juices, or line a colander placed in a bowl with cheese cloth (in 4 layers) and prepare a place to hang the pulp over the bowl.
- When the fruit is cooked until completely soft, spoon the mixture into the jelly bag over a bowl, or into the prepared cheese cloth. Tie off the bag and hang over the bowl to drain for at least a few hours, or overnight. (After draining, pulp can be composted.)
- Prepare canning jars and sterilize implements.
- Measure the juice extracted and place into a large saucepan or stock pot. Add 3/4 cup sugar per 1 cup of juice.
- Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring often, until mixture reaches gel stage*. This will take about 20-40 minutes, depending on how much juice there is.
- Pour hot jelly into heated canning jars. Skim off foam, seal and set aside to cool.
- Process in hot water bath or store in refrigerator.
* Sheet test for gel
Dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling soft spread. Lift the spoon and hold it horizontally, edge down, and watch how the mixture drops. When the mixture reaches the gel stage, it will begin to “sheet”, with the jelly breaking off the spoon in a sheet or flake, rather than pouring or dripping.