Monday, 16 August 2010

Crab Apples

Adventures in jam-making

Right outside the front door of our house there is a Crab Apple tree, which was planted years ago by the property developers who built the house. It is now well over 5 metres tall.

Crab Apples ready for harvesting

I have mixed feelings about this tree. In the Spring it produces a wonderful display of pink blossom and it looks lovely for a few days. Then it sheds its petals like a snow-storm. In due course these petals develop into a brown sludge that covers everything (especially our cars parked on the drive) and inevitably gets brought into the house on our shoes.

Unfortunately the tree has for many years been attacked in about May by some sort of pest (is it the Codling moth? I don't know!). Whatever it is eats most of the young shoots, which die and turn brown, so yet again the tree looks less picturesque than I would wish! [I did once apply to the local Council for permission to remove the tree, but this was refused on the grounds that the tree was "essentially healthy" (Oh yeah?) and provided "amenity" to the local area (whatever that is...)]

However, despite the above failings, the tree does go on to produce a fair crop of small pink-flushed apples.Actually about 50kgs I reckon. They are very tart and you wouldn't want to eat them raw, but they do make nice jelly...

This year I picked only a small proportion of the crop -- about 3kgs, which we then made into Crab Apple jelly. This was essentially me being  "under instruction" from Jane, who is the expert on such things, though I do like to get involved when I can.

Just a fraction of what we picked...

Basically you wash and halve the fruit, put it into a big pan (we have a specialist Preserving Pan), with about 600ml of water per kilo of fruit and boil it up until the fruit is reduced to a mush.

Leave the apple "mush" to cool a bit and then strain it using either a proper jelly bag (yes, of course we have one), or failing that a square of muslin tied at the corners to produce a temporary bag. You will need to ladle the mush into the bag in stages, and each time leave it for a while for the juice to drip through into a large receptacle placed underneath. We happen to have a conveniently-positioned Utility Room sink, over which the straining bag is suspended from the handles of the overhanging cupboard!

When you have extracted all the juice, (probably the next day) return the juice to the (washed) pan, add 450g of preserving sugar per 600ml of juice, heat slowly, stirring gently, until the sugar has completely dissolved, and then bring it to the boil. Meanwhile put a few saucers in your freezer to cool down (Why? All will be revealed later). Also, wash a few jars and put them on a baking tray in the oven at a temperature of about 100 degrees for about half an hour to sterilise.

Boil rapidly for anything from 15 to 45 minutes, supervising carefully! The volume of liquid will reduce significantly.When you reckon that the mixture might have reached setting point (drops fall off a wooden spoon quite slowly, in blobs...) take one of your saucers out of the freezer, put a small spoonful of the mixture onto the cold saucer and push it gently with a finger. If the "jelly" forms wrinkles, it's ready! If not, keep boiling for another few minutes and try again.

Take the jars out of the oven, and ladle the jelly CAREFULLY into the jars, filling them very nearly to the top. If you are doing things properly you will now place a disc of waxed greaseproof paper on the top of each jar of jelly to help seal it and reduce the risk of mould. Leave the jelly to cool before labelling the jars.

Inevitably the last jar will be less than 100% full, so that one is obviously destined to be the Tester which you will start using at the first available opportunity - in our case the same evening. Use it like you might use Redcurrant jelly. Excellent too with cold meats, especially pork.

Here is the end result...

Eight and a half jars from 3kg of fruit.


  1. fantastic! I will be trying this! :)

  2. Perfect timing Mark, the branches on our Crab Apple are bowed down with fruit, and I am determined not to waste it all this year.


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