Last weekend while we were at the cabin, I picked crabapples. We inherited two crabapple trees with the property.
They produce green crabapples. Orangey-red crabapples are more common, but crabapples come in all sorts of colors – just like regular apples (and just like regular apples, the green ones tend to be the tartest).
I knew right away that I wanted to use them to make crabapple jelly. Last time I picked crabapples, I developed recipes for crabapple sauce and crabapple butter, but I hadn’t gotten around to working on a crabapple jelly recipe yet. So, I spent yesterday in the kitchen doing just that.
I decided to keep this recipe flexible, so it would work for as many people as possible. You can use it to make a small batch or a big batch. You can process the finished jelly in a water bath canner, or you can freeze it, if that’s your thing.
Being a safety nut, this recipe is based on current National Center for Home Food Preservation guidelines. That’s important, if you plan to can your jelly. Lots of people on the web share their canning recipes, but fail to take current canning guidelines into consideration.
Alright, now that I’ve laid all of that groundwork, let’s get to the recipe, shall we?
Crabapple Jelly Recipe
Most jelly recipes call for pectin, but there’s no need for it in this recipe, since apples are naturally full of pectin. For a good gel, try to use 25% under-ripe crabapples and 75% ripe crabapples. Apples on the outer part of the tree ripen first, as do apples on the south-facing side of the tree. You’ll find your least ripe apples on the inside of the tree and on the north-side. Consider keeping a separate bucket for ripe and under-ripe crabapples, so it’ll be easy to get your mix right.
Under-ripe crabapples will give you lots of pectin, while ripe crabapples will give you the best flavor and color.
What You Do:
Wash and weigh your crabapples. This recipe is based on how many pounds of crabapples you’re using. I recommend sticking to even pounds, just to keep the recipe simple.
Keep in Mind: When making jelly, you shouldn’t process more than six cups of fruit at a time. You’re less likely to get a good gel, when you exceed this amount.
Remove the stems from your crabapples, and cut off the blossom ends. Then, halve or quarter your crabapples. Do not remove the skins or cores, that’s where most of the pectin is, and you need lots of pectin to get a good gel.
Your crabapples will start to oxidize (brown) when you cut them, if this concerns you, you can toss them with a little lemon juice. It’s not something I worry about.
Place your chopped crabapples in a large pot (I used my stock pot), and add one cup of water for every pound of crabapples.
Bring your crabapples to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly, so they don’t burn. When you reach boiling, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. The crabapples should feel soft when they’re done. Just be careful not to overcook them. Pectin starts to break down when it’s cooked too long.
Strain the juice from your cooked crabapples. There are several ways to do this. If you own a jelly strainer, you can set it up over a large bowl; dampen the jelly bag; then, put the crabapples into the jelly bag, and allow the juice to drain into the bowl. That’s the set up that you see in the photo.
Tip: Set your jelly strainer up over a liquid measuring cup. You’ll be able to see how much juice you ended up with, and it’ll be easy to pour back into your pot for the next step.
If you don’t have a jelly strainer, you can also double-line a colander with cheesecloth (or a clean flour-sack towel); place that set up over a large bowl; and allow the juice to drain into the bowl. Either way will work.
Now, if you want really clear jelly, do not squeeze the jelly bag/cheesecloth to get more juice out. This will put some of the fruit pulp back into the juice.
If you don’t care about having perfectly clear jelly, go ahead and squeeze. You’ll get more juice, which means more jelly.
Be sure to save your crabapple pulp, I’m going to show you a use for it at the end of this post.
Return the crabapple juice to the stove, and add one cup of sugar for every cup of juice. I recommend giving this a quick taste test. Crabapples vary in their tartness. Add more sugar, if it doesn’t meet your tastes yet.
Bring the pot to a bowl over high heat, and keep it there, until a candy thermometer reads 8 degrees over the boiling point of water. This is the point at which jelly recipes without added pectin will gel. At my elevation that’s 218 degrees.
Plug your elevation into this calculator to determine the boiling point of water in your area. Then, add 8 degrees to arrive at the gel point.
To determine if your jelly has gelled properly, use one of these tests.
If you aren’t happy with the gel (maybe you were working with older crabapples and they just don’t have as much pectin now), add half a box of pectin (3 Tablespoons, if you use the big-batch bottles), and bring them back to the gel point.
Then, ladle your finished jelly into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process the jars in a water bath canner for five minutes.
Prefer to freeze your jelly? Fill the jars to the headspace line marked on the side of the jars (you’ll want to use freezer jars). Then, allow the jars to cool, and pop them in the freezer. Opened jars should keep for about three weeks in the fridge.
My green apples yielded a brown jelly, about the color of regular apple jelly. If you use apples with red/orange skins, your jelly will probably be a pinky/red color.
What Do I Do with the Crabapple Pulp You Told Me to Keep?