Time: about an hour – Patience: 4 or 5 hours – Difficulty: easy
Until this year I had never made fruit jellies, out of a misguided belief that the process was needlessly tedious and fiddly – but a bumper crop of crab apples scrumped from a hedge finally forced me to give it a go. While there’s no escaping that it is a two-stage process – stewing fruit followed by straining and re-boiling with sugar – as hassle goes it’s certainly less trouble than taking stones out of plums for jam! Only the final boil and bottling requires your full attention, otherwise you can be getting on with other things – or putting your feet up with a well deserved cuppa!
You will require –
- Fruit – single or mixed varieties – apples are a popular ‘base’ fruit with additions. A couple of kilos is a sensible quantity to try first time out and will probably make 6 jars or so.
- Fresh herbs, chillies, spices… the only limit is your imagination
- Juice of a lemon or orange, if you like
- Sugar – I usually use preserving sugar for the additional pectin – this is particularly important for soft fruit which contain very little of their own pectins, apples and plums have quite a bit of their own and probably don’t really need supplementing. Still, it can’t hurt, right?
- A saucepan with a bigger capacity than the volume of your fruit
- A jelly bag / muslin strainer
- Jam jars with lids, clean and dry. I like to re-use jam jars if I can, and save small pretty ones for jellies, to the eternal irritation of my husband who keeps finding empty jars all over the house. Jellies often have quite a delicate flavour, so do be careful the jars haven’t previously been used for pickles or curry sauce (give them a good suspicious sniff if in any doubt, and check the lids for staining – if so send them for recycling or use them for chutneys), as this could very easily taint your lovely jelly!
And this is how it’s done –
- Roughly cut your fruit into pieces no more than about an inch square, removing any damaged / rotten areas (ignore this last detail in the case of bletted medlars, or you’ll have no fruit!)
- Place the fruit in the saucepan and just cover with tap water. Add the citrus juice at this stage if desired.
- Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer gently for an hour or so, stir from time to time but don’t mash.
- Suspend your jelly bag over a bowl and spoon in your stewed fruit. A soup ladle is quite helpful here. A jelly bag is a really useful thing to have if you’re making jellies (who knew?) but can be a bit expensive. You can bodge your own with a tied muslin. Many jelly bags have stands, but I just tie mine to the handles of the eye-level kitchen cabinets.
- The liquor that drains into the bowl will probably be cloudy. Don’t worry about this too much. You’ll see why in a bit. Leave it to strain for at least a couple of hours.
- When the flow of liquor from the jelly bag is almost exhausted, put the clean jam jars and lids in a cold oven and set the temperature to 150.
- Now, when the dripping is essentially stopped, measure the volume of liquor you have, preferably in pints (please note this recipe uses UK Imperial weights and measures, not US ones).
- Then weigh out the sugar you need, following the rule of thumb of one pound of sugar to one pint of liquid.
- Return the liquor and the sugar to the (washed) pan, add any finely shredded herbs or spices (if you just want the flavour but not the pieces of herb or chilli etc in the jelly, you should have added them at the stewing stage so the pieces are filtered out – personally, I rather like the look of little nuggets of flavour in the final product), and bring gently up to the boil, stirring continuously.
- You now have a pan of quite concentrated boiling sugar syrup, which you should under no circumstances leave unattended. It will probably froth a little and some scum may well rise to the surface. I’ve seen recommendations to skim this but I never bother.
- At some point during the boiling process, with a bit of luck, the cloudiness will disappear entirely. No, I don’t know why, either. I think it’s that culinary alchemy again!
- Keep stirring, and check for setting periodically. I put a couple of small saucers in the freezer ahead of time, then put a drop of the boiling syrup on the saucer, it will cool quickly and allow you to check the consistency. It’s ready when the cold jelly wrinkles when you push it with your finger.
- Different jellies seem to reach setting point at very different rates, some will take as little as 10 minutes, so keep checking regularly. And tasting, of course.
- Once your jelly has reached setting point, carefully get the hot sterilised jam jars out of the oven, fill with the hot jelly and tighten the lids fully. If you have any pieces in the jelly, watch to see if they’re trying to sink or float in the jars – if they are, then invert the jars every so often as they cool to mix the contents.
- If you find, once they’re cold, that the jelly isn’t as set as you’d like, it’s perfectly alright to tip it back into the pan the next day, clean and re-sterilise the jars, and boil the jelly for a while longer. But assuming it’s mostly set, why would you bother unless you were planning an attempt on the local flower and produce show with it?
- That’s it! Label, store, and enjoy at your leisure. They should keep at least a year in a cool dark place, but best to refrigerate after opening.
Doesn’t seem so hard, does it? Now, don’t you want to know what happened to those medlars..?