Okay, I’ll be honest. When I first picked these crabapples (the larger of the two in the bowl), I didn’t know what they were. From a distance, they looked like Rainier cherries, but a) it was September and b) there’s no way the critters would leave cherries behind on a tree. But I picked some (near my daughter’s school) and brought them home to investigate.
I cut one open first. Hrm, kind of looked like an apple. I took a bite. Yuck! It tasted terrible. How could something so pretty taste so bad? The logical next step was to consult Twitter and Google to determine what it was and if I was going to die (side note: don't ever eat the almond inside a peach pit; it's good but poisonous in large quantities).
It became clear immediately: crabapples. They fruit this time of year and they are largely ignored by the critters. I have a crabapple tree and was familiar, but mine bears tiny fruits that I never even considered tasting. But my Google search revealed recipes for crabapple jelly. I was intrigued.
Apparently, crabapple jelly is a great starter jelly. They naturally contain a high concentration of pectin, so they jell on their own without needing to add anything. You boil them, strain, boil again with sugar, and then, jelly! Beautiful pink jelly! Really, this is a great project for anyone who has crabapples because you don’t really need any special equipment. Instead of buying a jelly bag, you can strain through a coffee filter in a collander, cheesecloth, even an old, threadbare pillowcase. And, despite the fact that crabapples don’t taste good, the crabapple jelly is actually wonderful! Sweet and just a bit tart.
You can also add some other flavors to make combinations. I made a batch with lemon verbena leaves boiled into the third step and it’s fantastic; a really great flavor.
And here’s where I’m honest with you again: I read a lot of different recipes for crabapple jelly. Even watched a video. I ignored most of what I read and saw and I still got awesome jelly. So, here’s my recipe. It’s a bit loose based on how many crabapples you’ve got. But to make it worth your while, you need at least 2 quarts, but more like 3-4.
yield: 4-6 half-pints
3 to 4 quarts fresh crabapples
2 to 5 cups sugar
1. Clean the crabapples well. Remove the blossom ends and stems if you can (but no worries if you can’t; I couldn’t). Place the crabapples in a large stockpot or Dutch oven and cover with water until just before the crabapples start to float. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (covered) for about 20 minutes or until the crabapples burst, stirring occasionally. Mash the crabapples with a potato masher or large wooden spoon and boil for another 10-20 minutes. The longer you boil, the more color and pectin you’ll get.
2. Strain the crabapples in a jelly bag over a bowl for 2-3 hours until you get at least 4 cups of liquid. Wring if you want more liquid; don’t wring if you want clear jelly.
3. Pour the liquid into a stockpot or Dutch oven and and Add ½ cup sugar for every cup of liquid (you can add water to round out the measure, up to about ¼ of your yield). Check to see if the liquid is sweet enough. Add more sugar in ½ cup intervals to taste. Cook at a rolling boil (that can’t be stirred down), stirring frequently. If you step away for a moment and foam forms, just stir it back in. Boil for about 20-30 minutes, until it reaches jell stage.
4. Fill jelly jars, leaving ¼ inch at the top. Run a clean, wet towl along and just inside the rim to clean before adding the lid. Follow instructions for hot water canning (10 minutes).
* The larger crabapples are sweeter and need sugar added than the small crabapples. But the smaller crabapples have more pectin. If you can, use a good mix of both. But add more sugar in the third step if you have only small crabapples. And you’ll have to boil your mix longer to jell if you have only larger crabapples.
* There are a few ways to know if you’re jelly has jelled. If you have a candy thermometer, it jells at 220F. If you don’t (and I don’t) or if you do and you want a second opinion, do a spoon test. Dip a wooden spoon into the mix and lift it up 12-18 inches over the pot and let it drip back in. If the last droplet is a drop, it needs to boil a lot longer. If the last drop is actually two slower droplets, it’s getting close, but still not ready. Check again and if the last bit comes off as two joined drops (combining to make a sheet as it comes off the spoon), it’s ready. Another test is the “wrinkle test.” Keep a small saucer in the freezer, put about a tablespoon of the mix on the saucer and put the plate back into the freezer for about a minute. When you get it out, tilt the plate to make the jelly move. If the surface wrinkles as it moves, it’s ready. If not, cook it some more and test again.
* I wringed. Wrang? Whatever. I squeezed out every drop of that liquid that I could after waiting about 10 minutes for it to strain through cheesecloth over a collander on top of a glass bowl (in multiple batches). As a result, I got a big yield without having to wait for 2-3 hours (though it did take about an hour to get through the whole batch), but my jelly is cloudy. But it’s good, so I’m okay with that. But I’m tempted to do another batch (which will be my third—surprise! You’re all getting crabapple jelly for Christmas!) just to get some pretty pink clear jelly.
And as I mentioned, you really don’t have to have any special equipment to make this, so it can be a fun project with older kids. If you don’t want to bother do do the canning, you can just keep the jelly in the refrigerator. It’s so good, it’ll be gone in no time.