Crabapple Jelly - Method
Our Crab Apple Jelly is the best kind of artisanal product. We use Dolgo Crab Apples from around the city of Calgary, using only the ones that make the tastiest jelly. The apples are cooked and the juices strained out, then cooked with sugar to make this beautiful and traditional prairie treat. The promise held in the beautiful blossoms the tree produces in spring comes through in the jelly.
Crabapple trees are everywhere. They are one of the first trees to bloom in the spring and make a show of it with their blousy white flowers. Nothing reminds you that summer is coming more than trees with blossoms. They remind people of home and create wonderful associations back to when someone made this stunningly beautiful jelly for them.
One associates Crabapple trees with older neighbourhoods but many of the new subdivisions in Calgary have the Dolgo trees, as well as other varieties. In our opinion, Dolgo trees produce the best fruit which is oval and bright red when ripe. It can be confusing as there are a number of varieties that are ornamental. Simply tasting the fruit will not tell you if it will make good jelly. You need to take about 2 cups worth of apples, boil them in an equal amount of water and strain the juice. At this stage, we also add sugar (1:1 ratio of juice to sugar) and see if it sets easily. You will find that there are varieties that have no flavour whatsoever if cooked. You will also be surprised to find that there are varieties that do not appear to contain enough pectin to get them to set properly.
We recommend that you don’t use pectin for the Dolgo Crab Apple jelly. Instead, use the natural pectin in the fruit. Having said that, we’ll outline our process which you will find to be adaptable to the quantity you wish to produce be it two jars or twenty.
The apples need to be processed quite quickly after having been picked. If you cannot get to them that day, leave in the container and leave outside overnight. It is usually chilly enough at that time of year on the prairies. Do not wash them at this point. They will begin to spoil quickly if you do.
When you are ready, rinse the apples off and place in a large kettle or pot. You do not need to remove the stems or the flowering ends. Fill the pot with water just until you can see the water among the apples. One of the rules of making jams or jellies is that any extra water that you add will need to be cooked off at some point. So, using less to begin with saves you time. Bring the pot to a boil and then simmer for 20 full minutes. Stir occasionally. The apples will begin to break down, but not turn to mush. While the apples are simmering, line a colander with cheesecloth. You can simply strain the juice through a colander but you will bet tiny particles of apple in the jelly. Leave it to drip for a minimum of 2 hours. You can leave it overnight but we have found that only about another tablespoon or so of juice is produced.
Once you are satisfied that you have as much juice as you are prepared to wait for, measure the juice into a pot. If you have a large quantity, it’s best not to exceed 6 cups of juice at a time (1500 ml). Add sugar in a 1:1 ratio. Stir the sugar well (we use a whisk). Bring to a boil and continue to boil until the jelly sheets off a spoon.
Testing for Sheeting: Raise the spoon out of the steam, about 12 inches above the pan. Turn the spoon so the liquid runs off the side. The jelly is done when the syrup forms two drops that flow together and form a sheet that hangs off the edge of the spoon.
You are ready to pour the jelly into jars. Remember – always use jars that have been washed in hot, soapy water and then sterilized in boiling water. I heat my jars in a 250oF oven for 10 minutes. When jarred, let it sit for 24 hours before moving.
A note on leftover Crabapple pulp. Dolgo’s have so much flavour, that even after cooking most of the juice out, they retain enough character to make a delicious apple butter. We run the leftover pulp through the food mill attachment on our mixer. If it’s really dry and hard to get through the machine, we lighten the consistency with a little apple cider. When it’s ready, spice it up with cinnamon, allspice, and whatever else you love. We use a ¾ cup sugar to 1 cup of pulp ratio. You can, of course, use way less sugar but you will have to take care that you eat the butter quickly after opening a jar as it will spoil quickly, even in the refrigerator.
Cook with the spices and the sugar until it’s hot and bubbly and has a tighter consistency than applesauce. Jar. This apple butter is delicious with pork and also is a lovely pink colour which makes it doubly appealing.