Filed under: Condiments & Pickles | Tags: crabapple, foraging, jelly, preserving
I’ve been keeping my eye out lately for public fruit. I really like the idea that even in the middle of a city, nature can thrive and provide sustenance. So imagine my surprise when I realized that the trees in the parking lot of the grocery store a few blocks from my house are full of crabapples. I’ve lived here for more than 3 years and never gave them a second glance. Honestly, they’re kinda sad, misshapen little trees, but they’re full of little crabapples. What more can you expect from a parking lot?
A few nights ago, I took my daughter to the parking lot to pick crabapples. (Definitely a sentence I never thought I’d write.) We’d considered going to an orchard that day, but when I looked up the apples in season, I realized it was still a bit too early in the season for most of my favorites (Macoun, Cortland, Northern Spy.) So instead we had a quiet day at home, enjoying the beginnings of fall. She was a excited about picking apples, so this seemed a perfect compromise.
We walked down to the store with a bucket and picked almost four pounds of crabapples from those stunted little trees. We took them home and she helped pull off all the stems and flower bits from the ends. She had a great time swishing them around in the sink full of water to wash them. I couldn’t help but remember all the times I helped my mom and grandmother make jelly and jam as a kid. I can’t say there are a lot of ways her childhood resembles mine, but I’m happy this is one of them. I always loved helping out in the kitchen and so does she. She also loves helping with the laundry, but I have no idea where she got that.
Edit: A friend pointed out that with all this talking about foraging and cooking with my daughter, I didn’t actually say anything about how the jelly turned out. Oops. It turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. In addition to the lovely pink color, the flavor is great. I’ve never really liked apple jelly much; I’ve always thought most apple jelly tastes sweet and not like much else. This jelly has a distinct apple flavor with a little something extra, some tartness and floral notes, to keep it interesting. I’ve been eating it just slathered on toast with a bit of butter. As the first picture shows, I’ve gone through almost half a jar in less than a week.
Crabapples are basically really tart little apples with a bit of floral tone thrown in. Their tartness and high skin-to-flesh ratio make them perfect for jelly; they stand up the sugar without becoming overly sweet and they’re naturally high in pectin. (Pectin is concentrated in the skins.)
I’ve never seen crabapples for sale, so basically you need to find a tree to get some. Around Chicago at least, they’re pretty common as ornamentals.
3.5 lbs crabapples
About 6 cups sugar, amount determined during cooking
Wash the crabapples and pull off the stems and flower bits. Either cut each apple in half or toss them in a food processor and give them a quick buzz. You want to be sure the flesh is exposed; since you’re cooking them down, it doesn’t matter if they’re cut evenly.
Put the apples in a pot and add enough water to just barely cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the fruit has completely turned to mush. If you have a jelly bag, put the fruit into a jelly bag to strain out the juice. If not, use a double layer of cheesecloth or even an old pillow case. (I used cheesecloth.) All the recipes I could find say the juice that comes out should be clear; mine was cloudy, but it cleared up when I boiled it.
Keep the juice and toss the pulp. (If you want try making crabapple membrillo, keep the pulp. And if you do, let me know how it goes. I tried and couldn’t get mine to set up.)
Put your jelly jars and lids into a cold oven and turn it on to 350 F.
Measure the juice and put the juice and an equal amount of sugar in a large saucepot. (I had 6 1/4 cups of juice, so I used 6 1/4 cups of sugar.) Make sure you have a lot of room at the top. It will foam up a lot. Bring the juice and sugar to a full rolling boil and continue boiling for 15 to 20 minutes. After about 15 minutes, take a spoon of it and put it on a plate in the fridge. After a few minutes in the fridge, if you can run your finger through it and leave a track with ridges to the sides, it’s ready. If not, boil it for another 5 minutes and try again. Once it’s ready, get your jelly jars out of the oven, ladle the jelly into the jars and immediately screw on the lids. You’ll want to wear rubber gloves or use potholders to work with the hot jelly and hot jars.
If you plan to keep the jelly in the fridge and use it within a few months, you’re done at this point. If you want it to be shelf-stable, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
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