Making Crabapple Jelly

Last month I volunteered with Hidden Harvest, an independently funded organization that harvests fruits and nuts from trees in Ottawa and donates a portion to local food banks.

We went to Mooney’s Bay and harvested 197 lbs of crabapples. The camera on my phone unfortunately stopped working, so I don’t have any photos of the trees, but I did get a few shots of the harvest.

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We held blankets under the trees and took turns shaking the fruit from the branches. Afterwards, we sorted it all into groups of “firsts” and “seconds.” Hidden Harvest donated the “firsts” (the best) to a local food bank and divided the rest amongst the volunteer harvesters. I took home about eight pounds of fruit and decided to make a small batch of liqueur (more on that next month) and a batch of jelly.

Crabapple jelly make me feel nostalgic. My childhood home had a crabapple tree in the front yard, and I distinctly remember my father filling jars with ruby-red jelly that he made from the tiny, intensely sour apples. I probably helped to pick them, or at least I’m guessing so. I was very young at the time.

I remember the storage room in the basement — where we kept bottles of wine, old pickle jars, and halloween decorations — and the shelf lined with jars of homemade jelly. I remember that each jar had a white layer of wax-like substance on the top to extend the shelf-life. Most of all, I remember the taste: tangy and gelatinous with just enough sugar to counteract the apples’ sourness.

My family no longer lives in that house, so with Thanksgiving coming up (well, it has already passed since writing this!) I thought that it would be fun to make crabapple jelly and bring some over.

I had never made jelly or preserves before, so this was new territory for me. The first step was obvious enough: wash the fruit and cut off any soft spots. It really helped to watch Netflix for this step, considering how long it took me to sort everything (three hours)!

The crabapples were badly bruised, so I ended up with just enough good parts to make a small batch.

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The next step is to put the crabapples in a pot, mash them, and add just enough water to cover them. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until they are soft, about 10 minutes.

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Next step: strain it. I used a jelly bag, but if you don’t have one you can use cheesecloth. To get as much juice as possible, hang the bag over top of a bowl and allow it to drip for several hours or overnight. You can also gently squeeze the juice out of the bag.

I ended up with exactly 1 Liter of crabapple juice.

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It’s almost time to make the jelly on the stove, but first we need to sterilize the jars and keep them hot. The jelly will be extremely hot when we pour it into the jars, and the glass needs to be warm enough to handle it. Too much of a temperature shock will cause the glass to crack.

To prepare the jars, just wash them with soap and hot water and keep them warm on the stove. Serious preserve-makers use a canning pot with the jar holder thing that you put at the bottom, but I don’t have one, so I just used a regular pot with a metal steamer basket at the bottom.

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To keep the jars warm, add a bit of water to the pot, add the lid, and gently simmer over medium-low heat.

Okay, now we can go back to the jelly. Add the juice and sugar to a pot and bring it to a boil The ratio of juice to sugar will vary from recipe to recipe; I used 1 liter crabapple juice with 3 cups of white sugar. Some people also like to add pectin, but apples have enough natural pectin that you don’t need to add any (I didn’t).

Keep measuring the temperature until reaches 220°F. This may take a while. You’ll know that it’s almost ready when it starts to bubble like crazy and climbs the sides of the pot. In this photo, it is about 210°F. It’s almost ready, but not quite.

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In this next photo, the pot is almost overflowing, and the thermometer shows 220°F.

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You can also test if your jelly is done by using the sheet test or the cold plate method.

When your jelly is ready, remove the pot from the stove. Grab a pre-warmed jar and a lid from the pot and set it on the counter. If you don’t have a jar lifter, I highly recommend investing in one.

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Spoon the jelly into the jar, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. A canning funnel comes in really handy here!

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Wipe off any jelly that may have spilled onto the rim, and then add the lid and the band. Twist on the band until it is fingertip tight.

Repeat for all the other jars.

The jelly will keep like this for three weeks in the fridge. If you want to make it last longer (which you probably will, if you’re making a lot or giving it away as gifts), you’ll need to process it. The processing step forces the extra air out of the jar, which keeps the jelly shelf-stable for one year.

To seal the jars, add them back to the pot and cover them with water, making sure that the tops are covered by at least 2 inches.

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Bring the water to a gentle, steady boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat. If you had covered the pot, remove the lid. Allow the jars to stand for five minutes so that they can adjust to the temperature change.

Remove the jars from the pot and let them cool on the counter or on a table. After 12-24 hours, you can check to make sure that the jars are sealed properly. Just press on the center of the lid to see if it moves. If the jar is properly sealed, the lid won’t flex.

If you’re still not sure if your jar is sealed, or if you think it needs to be processed again, the PickYourOwn website has more advice about testing jar seals.

And here is my finished batch!

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In hindsight, I wish that I had used less sugar because this particular crabapple variety isn’t that sour, and I like jelly that’s a bit tangy. However, it still tastes good on a toasted bagel, so I’m happy about that. I also did not give anyone botulism (nobody has complained so far, anyway), so I’m happy about that too!

Have you ever made jelly or jam? If so, how did your first experience go? If you could make any flavour you want, what type of preserves would you make?

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