Making jelly by the rules

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Crabapple Jelly: as per the expert

Two grocery bags of apples makes 8 cups of juice

Wash apples and remove blossom end and stem. Cut in half and put in a large pot. Barely cover with water. Boil until apples are mushy.

Strain overnight through a cheesecloth bag. Don’t squeeze the bag or your jelly will be cloudy.

The next morning wash and sterilize the jars. The easiest way to sterilize is to put empty jars on a cookie sheet in a 250 F oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the sugar slightly in the same oven so that it is warm and doesn’t shock the juice as you slowly stir into the juice.

Boil the juice and warm sugar together. Never try to make more than four cups of jelly at a time or it will boil over.

Proportions: 1 cup sugar per 1 cup apple juice

Using a high heat bring juice to a rapid boil until it drips or sheets from a spoon (about 5 minutes). Pour into sterilized hot jars.

I should have known trouble was ahead when the first pots banged all by themselves in the kitchen cupboard.

“What’s that?” my startled daughter asked. But when you are making crabapple jelly in my house, you expect the unexpected.

My daughter had just dumped too many apples into the pot. I’d warned her.

“You cannot process that many apples at once. They will boil over,” I’d said. I should have saved my breath. The pots were rattling.

I imagine other households just make jelly. No fuss. No bother. No ghostly warnings. They just pick and boil the fruit and put it in jars. It’s a laborious process but in the end pretty easy. Not at my house.

Do I believe in ghosts? No! But memories come bounding back at this time of year especially at the sight of the aged recipe card my mother dictated to me the last year we made jelly together. Sometimes the memories get in the way of concentrating on boiling hot fruit.

“Make sure you write, ‘As per the expert!’” Mom said. “For posterity!”

That year my children climbed her tree and picked bags and bags of apples – too many apples. And there she was, directing the boys, laughing at her own little posterity joke and especially laughing about being an expert.

She had a big old stained jelly bag, which I’m sorry now I threw out.  I think it was originally made from old cloth flour bags. It was stained but had been washed so many times and had strained so much acidic fruit, it was as soft as old jeans.

“Use this bag,” she said.” It adds character to the jelly!”

I thought that bag was too old and perhaps too germy and it was one of the first of her things I threw out. So the first time I made jelly on my own, I bought a cheesecloth bag from the store.

That was the first year things happened.

As stipulated by the “expert’s instructions” I boiled the fruit covered with water until mushy and then tried to spoon the scalding-hot stuff into a jelly bag with a soup-bowl sized opening.  The juice dripped and burned a few fingers and was soon all over the sink, the cupboard and the floor.

There was a distinct rattling of pots.

Of course I made a new bag the size of Mom’s but it doesn’t have nearly as much “character.”

Still, even with a bigger bag, things happened, especially when I broke the rules. When you break the “crabapple-jelly” rules it almost always means you have to scrub the floor.

“Remember the year the string broke and when we got up in the morning there were apples all over everything and your feet stuck on the floor,” my daughter remembered.

I don’t remember. There have been too many similar incidents.

One year the stirring spoon I’d been using stuck to the glass bowl it was sitting in to protect the cupboard from getting sticky. When I tried to lift the spoon, the bowl held onto the spoon for a minute before it broke off and crashed to the floor. The jelly was at the crucial time when it had to come off the burner immediately but I was standing in bare feet, trapped in a circle of broken shards of glass.

I turned to the cupboard and said out loud, “Just rattle the pots next time.”

You can smell the perfume of the apples in the back yard now and as soon as I take one step outside I remember Mom’s futile plea, “Don’t pick too many. There’s too many apples to pick. Leave some for the birds!”

I repeated those very same words myself this week.

In the end nothing happened this year. Maybe the pots have given up their ghost.

Mom’s crabapple jelly recipe is pretty standard. You can find almost the same method/recipe these days on the internet. My daughter discovered a  simpler way to bag the hot, cooked fruit. She covers a huge bread bowl with a double-thick big sheet of cheesecloth, then puts the boiling fruit on top. She gathers the edges of the cheesecloth and ties it together and then suspends it – as always – from a cabinet knob. The mess is minimal.

And yes! She picked too many apples this year. Then she picked more and suspended two bags of fruit from knobs in her kitchen. It’s OK! The accidents happen at my house, not hers.

Crabapple jelly is best the day it is prepared when spread on buttered white bread. Canned jelly is good with pork chops. It makes an excellent glaze for ham. Just mix a jar of jelly with a tablespoon of yellow mustard and spoon it over the cooked ham. Then return it to the oven for 10 minutes until the jelly melts into the meat.

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About Author

Susan Jones has been a freelance writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2009, following a 20-year career at the St. Albert Gazette. Susan writes about homes, gardens, community events and people.