Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Crab apple jelly

It's been a bountiful autumn for berries, fungi and fruits of all kinds. The hedgerows are singing with bright red haws and rosehips, while apple trees hang laden with fruit.

I gathered a bag full of crab apples from a tree close to our conservation work party, hating to see the fruit falling to the ground and going to waste. Crab apple jelly was once a staple of the country kitchen preserving tradition and surely simple to make...

Over the next week, I learnt just how much labour and craft are required for a successful outcome - not to mention equipment. It took a couple of hours to quarter five pounds of fruit, discarding those that were rotten inside, and another two hours to boil them to a pulp. Meanwhile I had to acquire a muslin bag to strain the juices and find somewhere to hang it over a pan to drip for at least 12 hours. Not easy in our modest kitchen

Foolishly, I assumed that with all that apple content, the juices and sugar would set easily - a process which took another couple of hours and the addition of extra pectin in the form of apple and lemon peel (later removed).

The finished result is a clear, crimson-red jelly which tastes exquisite and goes extremely well with buttered crumpets or homemade bread. I can only assume that aficionados in earlier centuries kept servants to make it in suitably furnished kitchens - or that country housewives had a lot more time on their hands, which seems unlikely.

I love cooking with ingredients foraged from the wild and crab apple jelly must be one of the tastiest products from the British countryside, second only to gently fried ceps. But twenty-first century cooking it ain't!

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