Spicy crab apple jelly

I’ve never given crab apples a second thought before. Just passed the odd tree in a hedgerow on a country ramble and fatuously observed “crab apples” in the same way that I tend to say “sheep” or “blackbird” or “horsie” whenever the relevant thing comes into view. Nope, I’m not the least bit embarrassed about saying “horsie”. It’s just something I do.

But in a spate of inventiveness brought on by living in rural and foodie Ludlow I stopped at a couple of crookedly gnarled trees on a recent walk and bunged about a kilo of spotty crab apples into the rucksack. Never being content with the basics, I decided to try adding spice to my first attempt at crab apple jelly. Before you check: no, there’s nothing else worth doing with crab apples apart from jelly.

But it is a terribly satisfying bit of alchemy. From a bunch of mean looking little apples gathered from the ground beneath a hedgerow tree you distil a beautiful deep amber-red jelly with a flavour that is already naturally a little spicy and only faintly but still noticeably apply. Here’s how…

  1. Throw a kilo of crab apples in a pan with enough water to almost cover them but not quite. Throw in a couple of dried chillies, a couple of fresh thai chillies and a handful of star anise pods.
  2. Bring this to the boil, and leave it simmering for 30 minutes or so. Go in with a wooden spoon and mash the apples a bit to make sure they’re all well broken. Don’t let all the water boil off (I made this mistake first attempt). If you end up with the consistency of mashed potato then you’ve boiled too long and won’t get enough (or any) liquid out.
  3. Dump the apple pulp into a cloth or muslin bag and leave it suspended over a pan overnight to strain the fluid out. Other recipes say never to squeeze as you’ll squeeze some of the cloudy pulp through, but perhaps because I was using a proper cloth jelly bag I found that gentle squeezing was needed in the morning to get all the clear, sticky nectar out.
  4. Add sugar to your pan of fluid in roughly a 7-to-10 ratio of sugar to liquid. Yes, that’s plenty of sugar. If the amount scares you, I suggest never eating jam or marmalade ever again.
  5. Now, boil this syrup for something up to 30 minutes but probably less. What you’re doing is boiling the remaining water off so you end up with something that will set to a jelly. I found that I noticed a change in the way it was boiling, and decidedly less steam. You can test pretty well just by dipping the underside of a cool spoon into it – if you immediately get a little layer of jelly stuck to the spoon then you’re done
  6. Pour it into a couple of jam jars that you’ve sterilised with boiling water. Put the lid on and then just turn the jar upside-down; the volcanic jelly will make doubly sure the lid is sterilised!

I found that 1 kilo made about 2 jars full. Very nice on buttery toast. And since the recipe is sorta-kinda a chilli based condiment (preserve? condiment? dunno) I’m going to enter it in the Sweet Heat Challenge competition I found on another food blog. Yep, what I feared has come to pass – now that I have a food blog I spent half my time reading other people’s blogs! It’s only fair. : )

Anyway, as with any recipe including chillies, feel free to experiment with just how hot you want the outcome to be. For the record, I found that the chilli flavour was distinct but much less prominent that if I had cooked a pasta sauce or chilli con carne with the same amount of peppers! So be a little brave.

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