by Valerie Kiertzner
delicious on its own, but brilliantly useful as a base, you can use either fresh-pressed English apple juice which still has some flavour, bite and pectin in it or, if you are dealing with apples (making a pie or crumble for example) you can make apple stock from the peels and cores, which I prefer to do.
whenever you have a few apples, preferably cookers, to prepare, put the peels and cores in a saucepan and add some water (there's no hard and fast rule about this, but I would say about 1 pt of water to the debris from four large, or six medium cooking apples). Bring to the boil, then simmer for a couple of hours. Strain the cooled liquid through a jelly bag or large, muslin-lined sieve. Do not be tempted to squeeze and prod the boiled debris, it will cloud the jelly.
it isn't sensible to make preserves with less than two pints of liquid, since too much of it will get lost in the process to make it worth the bother. But, since apple stock freezes very well, I make a batch whenever the opportunity presents itself, measure it, freeze it and then defrost as much as I need for the job in hand. I use it for the apply jelly but I also use it as the liquid when making marmalade.
I do use a pectinated sugar, though, even though apples are full of pectin. It cuts the time down considerably and one gets a clearer, brighter jelly as a result and a better yield.
so, following that preamble:
1lb sugar per pint of apple juice (use minimum of 2 pints) (use granulated or pectinated sugar)
juice of one lemon
knob of butter
put all the ingredients in the pan and heat slowly, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Some people prefer to add the butter later in the process; I find it makes no difference.
bring to the boil and continue boiling rapidly for four minutes. Turn out the heat and test the jelly for setting. If it needs a little longer, return to the heat and boil on. Jellies reach setting-point very quickly. If you leave it boiling while checking for a set you run the risk of over boiling the jelly and getting a treacly end product.
when setting point is reached, skim the jelly if necessary and pour into hot, sterilised jars, then seal immediately. Alternatively, leave until completely cold before sealing.
there are loads of things you can do to Apple Jelly:
- infuse some lavender in the hot liquid until the desired strength of flavour is reached, then remove lavender and carry on as before
- add (to two pints of liquid) a dessertspoonful of dried mixed herbs to make a herb jelly. For extra green, stir in a further dessertspoon of freeze-dried parsley before potting.
- instead of lavender, put a dozen sachets of your favourite fruit tea into the hot jelly and steep. Remove sachets and squeeze out well as they will soak up a lot of liquid. Carry on as before. Apricot-scented teabags make the most delicious and delicately-flavoured jelly.
- add two dessertspoons of green or pink peppercorns (brined, not dried) at the boiling stage.
- add finely-chopped red or green chilli, with or without seeds at the boiling stage.
if adding things to the liquid that are going to stay, such as the herbs and peppercorns, it is best to let the finished jelly cool a little before potting, or the additions are liable to float to the surface. If this does happen, stir them down before sealing.
if anyone hasn't made jam or jelly before, setting point is reached when the boiling mass starts to form 'clots'. You can check for this in various ways. Dip a long wooden spoon into the pan and hold it up so you can see the liquid run off. If it starts to form flakes as it drops, setting point has been reached. Or you can spoon a small amount onto a cold plate. Leave for a few minutes and push your finger across the surface. If it wrinkles, setting point, again, has been reached. Unsurprisingly, this is called the wrinkle test.