October in England is often marked by ‘Apple Days’ or Apple Festivals, although the many varieties of this fruit enables the apple harvest to start in summer and reach a peak in September/October.
This is my own recipe for making use of this seasonal bounty. It is a quick and easy way to use windfall apples from my kitchen garden, but you can also use seasonal produce from a farmers’ market, or foraged fruit. The recipe isn’t difficult but does require two stages, as the cooked apples need to be left to strain overnight.
As with nearly all dishes prepared in the Ethical-Hedonists kitchen, the recipe provides the framework (and some theory) for the dish: Don’t worry too much about precise quantities and measures – they are fairly flexible and often determined by what is available, or by eye. You’ll find that the recipe will still work!
4 lbs apples (cooking or eating)
Handful crab apples
Organic unrefined caster sugar (1 lb per pint of cooked apple juice)
Muslin (or a clean linen or cotton tea towel)
Preserving or jam jars
Preparing the Apple Juice
1. Roughly chop the apples and crab apples, place in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add sufficient water to almost cover the fruit, and cook gently with the lid on until they have fallen apart and disintegrated into a thick slush.
This will take about 30-60 minutes, depending upon the type of crab apples used. Crab apples usually take longer to cook than apples; so don’t worry if it looks lumpy. The aim is break down the apples so that they can be strained, not to make apple puree.
2. Allow the cooked apple to cool, and then strain the juice (the quantities given above should yield 1-2 pints). This can be done in a jam bag, but it is easy to make your own: Line a large sieve or colander with a generous piece of muslin, and place over a large bowl. Pour the cooked apple into the muslin. A fair amount of juice will strain through straight away.
Gather the remainder in the muslin and hang up over the bowl to strain for several hours or, most traditionally, overnight. Do not squeeze the bag, as this is liable to make the juice cloudy (and result in a less beautiful jelly).
The juice can be covered and refrigerated for 2-3 days if you don’t wish to make the jelly straight away.
Making the Jelly
3. Add 1 lb of caster sugar and a dessertspoon of rose syrup to each pint of strained apple juice. (This my seem a lot of sugar, but apple jelly will not set without a roughly equal quantity of sugar to juice.) The Ethical-Hedonist uses Mymoune natural rose syrup (sharab el ward), available online and (sometimes) from Fresh & Wild. A growing number of independent shops and delis now stock Mymoune, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
Place the mixture in a large saucepan, deep enough for at least twice the mixture. (Copper or stainless steel is best for jam making; cast iron and enamelled pans, such as Le Creuset, can be used perfectly adequately but do become stained and hard to clean when cooking with sugar.)
4. Dissolve the sugar over a low heat, and then bring the mixture to a rolling boil where it doubles in volume and rises up the pan. There is no need to skim the mixture – you’ll just waste it. Keep at the rolling boil until the jelly reaches setting point, usually around 10-15 minutes. To test whether the jelly is ready, place a teaspoonful on a cold saucer straight from the fridge; if it sets, the jelly is ready. Take care not to over-cook the jelly mixture by leaving it on the boil for too long; this will reduce the pectin in the fruit, so that it becomes harder to set, and also reduces the quantity of jelly.
5. Allow to cool slightly, and skim (if necessary). Bottle in warm sterilised jars.
1. They contain higher levels of pectin (which helps set jams and jellies) than apples, especially very ripe ones, and so make the jelly much easier to make.
2. Their sharp-sour sweetness counterbalances the sweetness of apples and sugar used to make the jelly, and contribute to a more complex range of flavours than a straight apple jelly.
3. They can be used to add a beautiful colour, depending upon the type of crab apple used. For this recipe I use small, bright red crab apples that have a strong pink flesh and look like a miniature version of a traditional ‘heart’ shaped apple. These turn the cooked apple mix a delicate pink, and are the fruit of a variety of crab apple usually grown for ornamental blossom. They are well worth seeking out in the garden of a friend or neighbour, where they are more likely to be encountered than growing in the wild. (Larger wild crab apples often have a very weak colour, and the small, round, green-red crab apples from ornamental trees often have none at all.)
© Alexander Crum Ewing 22nd October 2009, Revised 26th October 2010