A classic, delicious crab apple jelly, that can be adapted to how ever many crab apples you are starting with!
I’ve only made crab apple jelly once before, many years ago. I wasn’t planning on making it this year either, until my Dad offered up a basket of apples left-over from his batch of jelly. He even threw in the “instructions” that my Mom had written out for him to follow.
Despite the commercial basket, these crab apples did not come from any market. Oh they were grown in Ontario alright … but on the tree in front of the local funeral home. My Dad picked them himself, perhaps under cover of darkness. (I didn’t ask ;)
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that the provided instructions were a bit lacking. Despite some clear warnings (that would be the part in all caps and underlined), there were key parts missing like how many apples to start with, how long to cook the apples and how much sugar to add etc.
I hit up google to fill in the blanks and by the end of the afternoon, had 3 beautiful jars of crabapple jelly.
Of course, then I had to bake up a batch of my English Muffin bread, since I knew it was the perfect place to spread a bit of this delicious jelly. And it was.
Cook’s Notes for Crab Apple Jelly
The freshest crab apples make the best jelly, so always start with apples as fresh as possible.
Wondering why the sugar is heated? Heating the sugar brings it closer to the temperature of the heating juice, so that when it’s added, it will dissolve more quickly and you won’t have to boil the jelly as long to reach the setting point.
Do be sure to WATCH THE SUGAR CONSTANTLY while it is heating in the oven, to avoid it over-heating and dissolving!
I have to be honest and say I’m not really sure why the jelly is placed to set on a “sunny windowsill”. My Mom says it helps create a clear jelly (the ultimate goal in jelly making). I’m not sure how, but I do it any way, because why not :)
Speaking of cloudy jelly, another reason that jelly becomes cloudy is if you poke or press the apple pulp while it’s draining, so resist the urge. Just collect and use juice that drains naturally from the apples.
How to Test if Jelly is Set with the Wrinkle Test
- Place a glass plate in the freezer for about fifteen minutes before starting to make your jam.
- To test your jam, turn off burner under jam. Spoon a puddle of jam onto the cold plate from the freezer. Run your finger through the jam on the plate. If jam wrinkles along the edges next to your finger line, it is set. If it seeps back in to the space where you ran your finger through, it is not yet set.
- If jam is not set, rinse the plate with cold water and return it to the freezer. Turn the heat back on under the jam and cook for a few minutes longer then test again. Repeat until jam wrinkles when tested.
What to do if your jelly didn’t set
It happens and it can happen for any number of reasons. If you have left your jelly out for 24 hours and it didn’t set, simply dump the contents back in to your pot and re-boil it until it sets (use a thermometer to cook to 220° F. or until it passes the wrinkle test, as above. If you want to be super-sure it’s going to set the second time, you could also consider adding a bit of commercial pectin.
Crab Apple Jelly
- 1 basket crab apples
- Cheesecloth muslin or old (clean) cotton pillow case, for draining fruit
- 2-3 cups White sugar
- Clean jars
Prepare your apples by washing, removing the stems and cutting off the blossom ends. You can leave whole or cut in half. If your apples come from a wild tree (ie. not sprayed), you may want to cut in half to make sure the inside is good. That's what I did.
Place prepared apples into a large stock pot and add water, just until it just peeks through the top of the apples (if any of your apples are floating, you've got too much). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, without stirring, until apples are softened, 10-15 minutes.
While fruit is simmering, place a large colander over a bowl and line with tripled-up cheesecloth, a piece of muslin or a cotton pillow case.
When fruit is tender, pour into prepared colander and leave to drain for 2-3 hours. RESIST THE URGE TO POKE, PRESS OR SQUEEZE the pulp to get more juice. It will make for a cloudy jelly. Just let gravity do it's work and discard the pulp when draining stops.
Measure out the amount of juice and make note of how many cups of juice you have (I got 3 cups of juice out of this basket of apples). Add the juice to a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring, for about 20 minutes, skimming off any foam, as necessary.
Meanwhile, measure out sugar. You'll need 3/4 cup of sugar for every cup of apple juice that you had. (So if you had 4 cups of juice, you'll need 3 cups of sugar). Place the sugar in a stainless steel or oven-proof bowl (or on a baking sheet, alternately) and pop into a 300° oven anywhere from 5-15 minutes, stirring it around a couple of times (time in the oven will vary depending on how much sugar/oven etc., so WATCH CLOSELY. It should be hot to the touch, but not so hot it starts to melt around the edges.).
When sugar is hot, remove from oven. Remove pot with apple juice from the heat. Stir in the hot sugar just until it is dissolved. Place the pot back on the heat and WITHOUT STIRRING, boil for 5-8 minutes, until jelly reaches 220° on a thermometer or passes the cold plate test*.
Ladle jelly into clean jars and leave with lids off until almost cool (without moving jars around). When jelly is almost cool, seal with lids. Let stand in a sunny window, undisturbed for 24 hrs. Wax and store.
*Cold Plate Test: Place a plate in the freezer before you start your jelly. Place 1 tsp. hot jelly on cold plate and freeze for 1 minute. Remove from freezer. Surface should wrinkle when edge is pushed with finger. If surface doesn't wrinkle, continue cooking and repeat test every few minutes.
What to do if your jelly doesn't set: Hey, it happens and it can happen for any number of reasons. If you have left your jelly out for 24 hours and it didn't set, simply dump the contents back in to your pot and re-boil it until it sets (use a thermometer to cook to 220° F. or until it passes the cold plate test, as above). If you want to be super-sure it's going to set the second time, you could also consider adding a bit of commercial pectin.