Wow. It's actually been more than a year since I posted anything here. Shocking. I do have good reasons, but really, do you need to hear them. Let's just say I have had other goings on that have kept me from writing. I have been cooking though! The main reason I haven't been writing is because we got a house (!) upstate in the spring, and we've been spending lots of time doing homeowner type fixes and work. One of the many, many great things about the house, is that there are many mature plantings on the property, including lilacs, rhodedenrons and most fantastically, apple trees. Apple sauce and apple pie has already been made.
One thing about me is that I like to make strange things - or rather, make food with strange things. Where I grew up in Colorado, I was able to find wild raspberries, wild rhubarb and wild chokecherries. Of course I made jelly with the chokecherries. It wasn't very tasty, but it was an amazing color. Around our house, I found a lot of wild blackberries - with which I made jam - and some wild chokecherries. Unfortunately, a bear (or another forager) got to the chokecherries before I could. But in our yard, we have two amazing crabapple trees. Crabapple jelly, I had to make it.
Jelly, in general, is easy to make, it's just a little more time consuming than jam. For those of you who don't know, the difference between Jam and Jelly is that jam includes the whole fruit, while jelly is made only from the juice of the fruit. So jelly requires the extra steps of boiling the fruit in water on it's own to extract the juice and straining the juice. Then you add sugar to actually make the jelly. Since you are using only the juice, jelly more often requires added pectin to get it to actually gel, unless you are using fruit that is naturally high in pectin. The great thing about crabapples is that they have a lot of natural pectin as do regular apples, so you don't have to add store bought pectin. I made (or tried to make) rhubarb jam early in the summer. For the first time EVER, I used store bought pectin, and I still ended up with rhubarb syrup rather than rhubarb jam. Lesson #1 from this: don't use store bought pectin. Lesson #2, add apples to any jam that you make.
ANYWAY, in all of my cookbooks, including several books specifically about preserving food, I couldn't find a recipe for crabapple jelly (more later on why I was ONLY looking in cookbooks, not on the internet...) But of course the good old Joy of Cooking had a basic crabapple or quince jelly recipe, so I used it as a basis.
I have to say that the results are pretty spectacular: amazing color, it gelled perfectly (truthfully, it's more like Jello than jelly) and it has a really nice, floral and fruity flavor. I only made one small batch, but I like it so much I may try to make another - if I can actually get more tiny crabapples from the tree (definitely the hardest part of the whole process). One note - crabapples are very tart and tannic, so don't eat any straight from the tree.
1 1/2 lbs of crabapples
3 star anise
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
3 cups of sugar
Wash crabapples and remove stems and any bruises or bad spots. You don't need to cut or peel them. Put them in a pot and just cover them with water. Add anise, cinnamon and pepper. Boil for 20-30 minutes until they are soft and break up easily when you mash them. Let cool slightly, then strain through a jelly strainer for 1 to 2 hours. You can press the jelly bag lightly to get all of the juice, but you may get cloudier jelly if you press too much. You should have about 4 cups of juice. Combine the juice and the sugar and bring to a boil, skimming off any foam. Boil to 220 degrees (less if you are at high altitude - approximately 2 degrees less for every 1,000 feet you are above sea level). You can also do the spoon or sheet test, but I find using a thermometer gives better results.
Have half pint or jelly jars and lids prepared - washed and sterilized. Immediately pour jelly into jars and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Yield approximately 6 half pints.