Crab apple crazy!

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Chilli and crab apple jelly

This year I’m going crab apple crazy. All that fruit for free which nobody wants is just begging to be turned into jellies at hardly any cost except for the sugar. And that’s at bargain prices at the moment.

So far I’ve made rowan and crab apple jelly and chilli and crab apple jelly and both have been a great success. I can’t think why I haven’t done it before.

Actually I can. It’s all that straining overnight through jelly bags and trying not to squeeze and turn the liquid cloudy, then worrying about getting a set, overboiling and it finishing up hard and stiff instead of coming quivering out of the jar.

In fact, what I wanted was the sort of jellies that excellent chef Hugh Cocker always had on the menu at the Old Post, Chesterfield.

But now I’ve cracked it with the help of Pam Corbin’s Preserves, the River Cottage Handbook No 2. There are red and orange rowan berry trees all over Sheffield and I picked a kilo at the Ponderosa in Crookes. It’s a great place for fruit. Some years ago a local conservationist group planted fruit trees and bushes so now I pick gooseberries, blackcurrants, plums, damsons, blackberries and elderberries there throughout the year. The area, a big patch of parkland and woodland, got its name from local kids playing there after the ranch in the Sixties TV series Bonanza,

As I walked back to my car there was a crab apple tree ablaze with fruit. I picked some and to get an equal quantity of apple to rowan I scrumped more from my neighbour’s garden, with his permission.

Pam doesn’t mention this little trick but I blitzed the fruits in a processor, put everything in a big pan, just covered it with water and simmered for an hour. I tied the jelly bag to the four feet of an upturned stool, put a bowl underneath and covered the lot with a bin bag to keep the flies off.

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An upturned stool and jelly bag makes this improvised strained

The next day I had about a litre of juice. It was back in the pan and for each 600ml of liquid I stirred in 450g of sugar. (This is the same formula for whatever jelly you make.) She also recommends the juice of a lemon although there is plenty of pectin in the apples. It’s there to sharpen flavours. As I wanted to use the jelly with meats I tied a bunch of sage and thyme together and hung it in the pan during the simmer and boil.

It was a remarkably quick set (test early) using the saucer test and the flavour and colour, a gorgeous pinky red, is excellent. It will go well with meats and enrich sauces and stews.

Flushed with success I tried again, this time with chillies, a mixture of bought ones from the local Indian shop (costing only pennies) and some tiny ones I’d grown on the windowsill. I chopped these up and added them to the pan while the juice was coming to the boil. I wanted it quite hot so had four chillies, red, orange and green, some deseeded, others not.

When the jelly sets you want the chilli bits suspended in it but they insist on floating to the top. Pam has a good trick. At setting point turn off the heat and leave the pan to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then bottle. Every time the chillies rise to the top upend the jars and give them a twist. Eventually they give in, the jelly sets and they are suspended all through the mixture.

It’s hot but not too hot. Remember that one way to tone down a too chilli-hot curry is to add a tablespoon of sugar. There’s plenty of sugar in the jelly so the heat tends to balance out. It will be an alternative to the chill jam (made with tomatoes) which goes well with fish cakes and similar foods – just about anything really!

There are still shedloads of crab apples on the trees so I’m working out what to do next!

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Crab apples – all for free

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