The big move is in a week! I’m hustling to get everything packed up, gift away pantry items to friends (a tub of duck fat, a bag of bran, packets of yeast, a block of chocolate), and of course, wrap up my last canning projects of the year before the season is over and I have to wrap up my 100+ jars of home-canned food into storage boxes for a long winter’s nap.
On my last big canning weekend, I put up 25 pounds of tomatoes, several jars of applesauce, some remarkable green tomato chutney, and my favorite – clear jars of golden apple jelly flavored with lemon verbena. I had never made jelly before, and there’s a real art to it. An “imperfect” jelly is like an imperfect diamond, filled with bubbles or other flaws. An ideal jelly isn’t too loose or too stiff and is crystal clear. Even better if you can achieve a good set without resorting to artificial pectin. Jelly that is too loose is basically syrup, and you can use it as such. Boil it too long and it gets too stiff, and you have to call a loss and move on.
But I was feeling ambitious, so I gave it a go. I boiled the first batch just a minute too long, and the jelly began setting up before I could pour it into the jars. They’re filled with tiny air bubbles, but the consistency is still pretty good so I’ve kept them. The second batch came out even better. And the flavor is astounding. It’s like the tastes, smells, and golden colors of Autumn were bottled in a jar.
The amount of sugar in jelly is higher than a jam or preserve, so it’s maybe not something you want to slather on a peanut butter sandwich. But you can also do so much more with jelly than smear it on toast. It’s a very versatile preserve that can be used in a sauce or glaze for fish or meat, stirred into a warm bowl of hot oatmeal, or maybe spread on a baguette with some sharp cheese and paper-thin slices of apples or pears.
herbal apple jelly
a variety of organic apples
a small bunch of your herb of choice
you will also need: 2 jelly bags and sterilized half pint jars and lids, both available at most hardware stores
A note on ingredients:
Choose different kinds of cooking apples for the best depth of flavor. I used the Macoun and Smokehouse varieties, both of which I found at my local market. Apple jelly is a basic canvas to layer on additional flavor notes, so you can be really creative when choosing your herbs. Lemon verbena makes a sweet, floral jelly; or maybe try lovage for a savory apple jelly that would pair well with a pork roast or slathered onto a savory sandwich.
First, make the apple stock. Clean the apples and chop them into big chunks. Don’t core or peel them – you’ll need the core, seeds and skins for their added pectin. Put them in a large pot and fill the pot with water to just to barely cover the apples. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Don’t stir the fruit, or your jelly might become cloudy.
Next, strain your apple stock from the apple pulp. Carefully ladle the apple pulp and stock through wet jelly bags, capturing all of the fruit in the bag and letting the liquid strain through into a bowl. Hang the full jelly bags, suspended over a bowl, to let them drip for an additional hour or even overnight. Resist the temptation to squeeze the bags to get out more liquid – this will only cause apple pulp to seep through and cloud your jelly. The stock can be kept in an airtight container for several days in the refrigerator. Compost the leftover apple pulp or process it through a food mill to make applesauce with some added honey and cinnamon.
When you’re ready to make the jelly, measure the apple stock. For every cup of apple stock, measure out one cup of sugar. Place the sugar on a baking sheet and place in a 225 degree oven for 15 minutes to warm up while you’re readying the jelly. This is a British trick that will make the warm sugar dissolve instantly in the hot liquid. Don’t keep it in there too long though, or it will start to caramelize.
Set a large pot of water to boil for canning. Sterilize your jars, warm and sterilize your lids, and keep the jars warm on baking sheets a 225 degree oven.
Put the apple stock in a wide preserving pot. For every 4 cups of apple stock, add two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Add in your herbs tied with twine. Start with less – you can always taste and add more herbs if the flavor is too subtle, but you can’t take the flavor out once they’re in there. Bring the mixture to a boil, then add the warmed sugar. Bring back to a boil and boil rapidly, stirring constantly, for 8-10 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy and it passes the wrinkle test (a dollop of jelly will form a light skin when placed on a cold plate in the freezer for 60 seconds). Remove the herb bundles.
Moving quickly now so the jelly doesn’t set up in the pot, carefully ladle them into half pint jars and leave a 1/2 inch at the top. Seal, then process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Refrigerate all jars that don’t seal.