Crab apple jelly is so pretty. It makes a perfect hostess gift or stocking stuffer. People are always so touched by the care it takes to make something from scratch and with love, especially if it also happens to taste really good. I’m always surprised by the reaction the gift of one of these little jars of clear red jelly elicits. Friends “oh and ah” and act like they’ve just been given a rare red ruby gem. They groan and say they wish they knew how to make it but they’re just to scared to try. Scared to try? I inwardly scratch my head and think about this for awhile. I realize several things.
I grew up in a home where jam and pickle making were the norm and so smells of vinegar and bags of dripping juices do not intimidate me. I’m at home in a steamy kitchen with counters stacked with jars and bundles of fruits or vegetables. I am reasonably confident that my efforts will turn out and I’ll be rewarded with those glorious little jars to savour and share. I’ve come to realize through past efforts to organize canning bees for my local chapter of Slow Food International that this is not the case for all.
These canning and preserving the season skills that I take for granted have become known as “heritage skills”. They are rare. Without realizing it, I was mentored by my mother, father, grandmother and great-grandmother (she lived until I was 14). Most people today, are on the third generation of households where cooking consists of re-heating a prepared meal, microwaving something frozen, or taking something out of a package, plastic bag or can. Home makers were told after WWII that cooking was a chore and food needed to be convenient and cheap. In a perfect storm, the women’s rights movement reinforced this by propagating the belief that the practical art and science of homemaking was a ball and chain (I believe they should have stuck with philosophical and political ideals that were suffocating women’s abilities and rights and not taken aim at such essential life skills). So here we are in the new millenium with a few generations of people that like to watch people cook on TV but don’t know how to do so themselves. I think we were sold a bill of goods and it was not a fair trade. We lost a vital life skill.
Here’s the thing. It’s never too late and we need not be so all or nothing in our approach. We can have it all. Rights for all and life skills for all. Being able to cook for oneself from scratch with whole food is a vital part of nutrition and health. People who cook their own food eat better and weigh less. They save money. Cooking is also a great creative outlet and promotes optimal brain function because of all the executive skills it requires – planning, timing, manual dexterity, taste, tactile, olfactory, visual stimulation and use of memory. It is also a major social connector and social connection not only increases our longevity but also the success and happiness of families.
So, yes, I’m presenting you with a simple recipe for Crab Apple Jelly but I’m also encouraging you to reclaim our heritage. Learn how to cook again. Find a mentor. We are out there and happy to share. Our recipes and techniques are our gems and we’ll gladly give you our riches. The true value of cooking skills as life skill is being recognized again and though these skills are scarce, there is no need to be jell-ous. By sharing them we increase the amount of culinary and life treasure to be had by all.
Crab Apple Jelly
- Gather 4 lbs of crabapples from your tree or a neighbour’s – let’s face it, it would be hard to use all the crab apples on any tree and they’d love to give you theirs for some jelly in return.
- Wash the apples and remove the stem and blossom ends.
- Cut the apples in half (do not core) and place them in a large stockpot and cover with cold water.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently and then reduce the heat and boil gently stirring and crushing the apples until soft – about a half hour.
- Transfer the apple mixture to a large sieve lined with cheesecloth set over a large bowl and let the juice drip (without aiding or abetting it) at least 2 hours or overnight.
- You’ll need 4 cups of juice (if you don’t have enough you can top it up some regular apple juice).
- Prepare your canner, lids & jars. I put my jars in the dishwasher and run them through. When they are done, I put them on a cookie sheet in a 150 degree oven to keep them warm. I put my lids and rings in a pot of freshly boiled water and lift them out with a magnet lifter (available anywhere canning supplies are). I inherited a large canning bath from a friend who was downsizing – they aren’t expensive if you need to buy one. I fill it about two-thirds as the jars will displace volume as you set them in.
- Combine the 4 cups of crabapple juice with 4 cups of sugar (this much is needed for the fruit to gel properly) and 1 tbsp of lemon juice (I use bottled Santa Cruz organic lemon juice because it has a set pH– avoid using fresh lemons because you won’t know what the pH is & your batch may not turn out if it is too low or too high) in a deep stockpot.
- Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve all the sugar.
- Boil hard, stirring frequently until the jelly starts to “sheet” (a cold metal spoon is used to pick up some jelly and then turned sideways – if the jelly falls off in drops, it’s not done – if it falls off in a single sheet it is done) This should take about 25 minutes.
- Remove from heat and skim off the pink foam that has accumulated.
- Pour the hot jelly into the waiting jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. I use a glass 1 cup measuring cup with handle to do this. Wipe the rims. Apply lids and screw bands on until they are fingertip tight.
- Place the jars in the canning water bath all at once, ensuring they are completely covered, bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove the canner lid, wait 5 minutes and remove jars to a counter lined with tea towels. Wrap the jars in the tea towels and they’ll cool more slowly and have more chance of sealing properly. Cool completely, admire appropriately and store.