A friend of mine had a ton of crabapples on her crabapple tree. They were the larger variety, thank goodness, but she and her husband had bagged them up in bags that had nearly seven pounds of the little suckers in 'em. They brought them to church to give away to anyone that would take them.
Several people took home bags, including me, since one of my younger friends at church said that crabapple jelly was the best thing ever, and my friend, Mimi, had actually served me some of her crabapple jelly on goat cheese on crackers and it was very tasty indeed. I figured I might have the time to do it, and since I'd never done it before, the whole process intrigued me.
Every single crabapple had to be cleaned, and the blossom and the stem cut off. I also threw out every one that had a worm in it, and every single one that wasn't quite good anymore. There weren't that many of them, but all of them had to be cut into in order to figure out if they were any good or not. I also separated the bits that had seeds into the commercial compost from the bits that didn't have seeds to put into my own garden compost. Our compost pile can't really denature seeds very well, but the commercial compost uses a heat treatment that can actually break down all kinds.
The prep is what took the longest time. And I decided to do them all, because I had no use for crabapples in any other recipe.
The next thing I had to do was cook 'em in just enough water to cover them, until they had given up their juice and were soft, but not so long that their very important pectins broke down and not so long that the fruit completely broke down so that I couldn't filter them out of their juice.
So it was just bringing it to a boil and then letting them simmer for twenty minutes or so, and the liquid they were cooking in turned this brilliant red. I really liked that, and the house smelled of the tart perfume of crabapples. No sugar, yet, just the fruit and water. It made me wonder if grape jelly or apple jelly is the same process, and I could definitely see it working for apples to get their pectin, but grapes wouldn't hold together for cooking. Maybe grape jelly just extracts the juice the same way they do for wine?
After I let that cool a little, I lined a sieve with a double layer of cheese cloth and filtered the solids out to get this bright pink liquid. I added a 7:10 ratio of sugar to juice, and then put it on the heat and let it boil. I skimmed off whatever foam appeared, and when the skimmings turned into jelly when it cooled in the bowl, I stopped the cooking.
The recipe said to take it to eight degrees above the boiling point of water, but that really seems far too much like making candy instead of jelly, but I've also never really done it before. *laughs* So I may as well make my mistakes and see how it goes. I used 2 1/2 cups of juice so only 1 3/4 cups of sugar, which is still a lot of sugar, it made three and a half cups of jelly, which is far more than I can eat. I actually had sixty ounces of crabapple juice from the cooking, so I bottled a quart of the leftovers into a clean quart milk bottle, and it's delicious, straight, in soda water. I may even sweeten it a little for a really nice crabapple drink.
The jelly itself went, hot, into these sterilized jars, and I capped and canned three of them in this same pot. Yes, that is a pie weight chain at the bottom of the pot, and it was my improvisation since I don't actually own a canning rack. I also used my two silicon oven mitts for putting jars into the pot and taking them out again when they were hot. I don't have a jar lifter/clamp, and the gloves were ribbed and really gave me a good grip on the hot glass. The material did a great job of protecting my hands, but it was amazing how hot boiling water really can be. It was also mildly disturbing to have to just reach into a boiling pot of water with my hands to pull out the jars of jelly, after the canning period.
The resultant jelly is amazingly red, clear, and actually doing a pretty good job of solidifying from a complete liquid to a solid. The half-jar went right into the refrigerator and we'll be eating directly out of that to start. It was really satisfying to hear all the lids go 'ting' seconds after I pulled them out of the boiling bath. All of them have sealed tight and are ready to sit, forgotten, on a shelf for years.
John and Jet never eat jelly. I almost never do, but this will probably be amazing on goat cheese and in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Still... it's going to be a while before I even get through this much. Luckily, the young lady who told me, at the very first, that crabapple jelly was amazingly good may well take one of the jars. *laughs*
I have to admit when I was prepping all these tiny fruit I thought that someone must have been awful desperate to have initially come up with the concept of crabapple jelly, especially as some means of preserving those amazingly tart fruit. The pectin content is pretty neat, though, and it's probably going to cool solid with time. It's definitely something that takes a lot of time and effort to prepare, but given the taste of what I had at Mimi's and the last dregs from the jelly pan, it is well worth it.