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Do not poke the jelly bag!

“The apple was the first fruit of the world according to Genesis, but it was no Cox’s Orange Pippin. God gave the crab apple and left the rest to man.” Jane Grigson

I decided to experiment. We have a tree in the garden which produces small green apples. Well we picked them before they had a chance to ripen because this is Australia. We have flocks of greedy birds who seem to like unripe fruit, and so any kind of fruit either has to be netted - a real pain - or picked before it is ripe and turned into jam. Hence the slightly tart Christmas wild plum jam from Wild Cherry Drive.

The apple tree is small but this year there looked to be quite a few apples upon it so we pounced before the birds. I vaguely remember having another apple tree up on the road fence line, but either the tree itself has disappeared or it has ceased providing any fruit. That seems to happen to a lot of the fruit trees in our garden as well. I'm sure we used to have apricots, and also actual cherries. But not for many, many years now.

These are the apples I picked. There is about a kilo. And now that I look at them I think they were probably supposed to be Granny Smiths or something similar. They were very small though, so I decided to have a go at crab apple jelly - one of those things that has always seemed a daunting prospect to me - the jelly bag and all that - which I shall come to shortly. So possibly Granny Smith jelly rather than Crab apple jelly but I reckoned the principle was the same anyway.

Now we also have blackberries - there is a semi wild corner of the garden which is ever so slowly getting overrun with blackberries. I have already picked two batches which were sufficient to add to apple crumbles and suchlike. I can't quite remember what now. Anyway I thought I would see if there were any more to add to my apples - and there were. Well there was a handful.

Whilst we are on blackberries - in preparation for writing this post I have been browsing the internet and found lots of people rhapsodising about British hedgerows burdened with things such as elderberries, rowan berries, hips and haws, sloe berries and the aforesaid blackberries, not to mention the crab apples which seem to be littering the ground everywhere and rotting where they lay.

"By the arrival of September, the apples are a rosy red and falling from the over-burdened branches. For the local food enthusiast, this is the time to get cracking on the crabapple jelly!" Local Food Britain

I do remember as a child cruising various hedgerows, either within walking distance of home, or a short drive away. Mostly we just went for the blackberries which were turned into delicious apple crumbles and pies, served with custard - this was England and there was no cream after the war. Besides, what's wrong with custard? I also vaguely remember elderberries and sloes but I do not remember what happened to them. Were they turned into gin and cordial? The sad thing is that Australia does not seem to have hedgerows, or rather when we do they take over - blackberries are a noxious weed here and sprayed accordingly - and so you can't pick any you see in the wild. Besides there's always the danger of snakes here to add to the adventure.

I decided to go with the River Cottage's Pam Corbin for my recipe and found this beautiful picture opposite her piece on how to make what she calls Hedgerow jelly. She doesn't seem to have a recipe for pure Crab apple jelly but this one was perfect because of the addition of the blackberries.

The picture reminded me so much of what is beautiful about the English countryside, and also of my very young sons' delight at the 'green tunnels' we drove along around the Sussex countryside, where my sister lives.

Anyway as it turns out even a small handful of blackberries may have been invaluable in deciding the final colour of my jelly. I think without them it would have been brownish. And we all know that brown food is not attractive food.

So back to my cooking adventure. Pam Corbin told me to just cut up the apples - core, peel and all (but not stalks and leaves) and place in a pan with slightly over the weight of the apples in water, and cook until soft. Well a few things to note here:

  • As soon as I started cutting the apples they started to turn brown, so I added them to the water - which actually didn't help, so I added the juice of half a lemon. Also not much help.

  • Interestingly as they cooked they went all mushy in the middle but remained hard on the outside of each piece. Some bits remained hard until the bitter end.

  • I had to keep adding water because it took ages and ages to soften them and even when I gave up I could hardly say they were mushy all the way through. So proportion of water to apples is very vague. Some just say to cover them, whatever that means. Since then of course I have checked out a few more recipes and found that ratios vary and one person even said to put the lid on so that the water did not evaporate. Which makes sense. Being an impatient person though I finally gave up. I don't really know whether my final mixture should have been more or less liquid or whether I had it just right, because of adding all that extra water.

Then came the fun part - the upturned stool and the jelly bag - in my case a double layer of muslin. I always have muslin for the Christmas turkey. I buy a couple of metres every few years at Spotlight. It has lots of uses. Some said you could use a tea towel instead but others said they were too fluffy. Oh and you had to scald the muslin by putting it in a bowl of boiling water.

So it dripped overnight - and here I have to say that the vast amount of the resulting juice dripped out when the apples went into the bag, and in spite of the apples themselves looking a very unattractive beige/brown colour the juice was reddish - because of the blackberries I'm guessing. But I religiously followed the dictum at the top of the page which you will find in almost every recipe - it certainly was in mine - don't squeeze the bag because the result will be cloudy jelly. And then today I found this:

"Jelly recipes always say “Don’t Squeeze the Bag!” This can cause some of the pulp to come through into the extracted juice, resulting in a cloudy jelly.

You know what? I ALWAYS squeeze the bag.

There is so much more juice in there that just won’t come out no matter how long you wait. Gently squeeze the bag of course, and stop if you see any solids of any kind filtering through the fibers of the jelly bag or cheesecloth.

Without squeezing the bag at all, you’ll get about half as much juice." Practical Self Reliance

And you know what - I think she's right. Here are my remains and they were pretty moist. I feel sure that if I had squeezed the bag before extracting them they would have given up a bit more juice. And look at the juice above. There was definitely no poking or squeezing involved in their production but yet it is somewhat cloudy. However, the end result as you shall see is pretty clear. If I ever do this again I shall be giving it a final squeeze before throwing the remains away.

But wait. Don't throw those remains away because I also found this - a recipe for

Crab apple membrillo from Fuss Free Flavours which makes further use of the crab apples. Now how good is that? The crab apples themselves are a sort of foraged/discarded/leftover thing, and then to make use of the leftovers to produce something else that is equally delicious, and just a tiny bit gourmet would have been so satisfying. Too late now though as they are in my kitchen top compost bin with all the other vegetable and fruit debris. Next time. And I think there will be a next time because it was fun. And satisfying. Satisfying is really, really good.

Moving on. Next you add the sugar, having first boiled up your juice. Once again there is disagreement as to how much sugar. Equal? Half a cup sugar to a cup of juice? Or, as in my recipe 450g to 1.2 litres, because Pam Corbin thought I would have about 1.2 litres of juice. I did not - I had 500ml, so I added about 350g of sugar. But then in addition to her 1kg of apples - which I also had - well just under - she had 1 kg of blackberries, whereas I had just a handful. Which probably explains the difference. The blackberries virtually dissolve. Lots of sugar though because:

"Crab apples are very sour, so they do need a lot of sugar. Don’t be tempted to cut back." Fuss Free Flavours

Here's the good part. Once you have dissolved the sugar you only boil it for about 10 minutes before setting point is reached. Without stirring. Maybe a bit less. Opinion seemed to vary. They also varied as to when to remove the scum. Most said when at setting point but the Practical Self Reliance lady said to remove it as soon as the sugared mixture boiled because the scum sets on the top. Might try that next time. Not that there was a lot of scum on mine. Very quick setting time though. And no risking burns all up your arm from sputtering jelly whilst stirring.

Now in some ways I should be disappointed with my final result - only these two small jars for all the effort. But actually there wasn't much effort and look how pretty it is. And maybe, just maybe - it's horrible.

Now comes the question of what to do with it. Well eat it of course - on your morning crumpet. Or:

  • A glaze for things like pork

  • Stir into sauces

  • Stir into ice-cream and/or yoghurt

  • Add to baked fruit things

  • Dressings?

I'm sure you can dream up all sorts of things.

Final things to do. Flavour the apples with things like cinnamon and cloves. Or add chillies to make crab apple chilli jam. This seems to be a thing.

At the beginning of the year I resolved to make one thing each month which I had never made - out of fear of failure - or something at which I had actually failed. So in January it was polenta and February it's jelly - well the jelly meaning clear jam kind of jelly. Maybe I should also have a go at the dessert kind before the month is up. For dessert on Saturday or Sunday perhaps. We are still dithering as to which day, but friends are coming for lunch. Champagne jelly?


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