I’ve never actually made jelly before. Compote, yes. Curd, sure. Even jam, way back when I was a kid in my grandmother’s kitchen. But jelly? Never. When I was offered a bagful of tiny crabapples and told that they were “great for jelly,” though, I knew that fate was dropping the opportunity in my lap.
I opened the bag and eyed the crabapples dubiously. They were so tiny (seriously, like cherry-sized)– wouldn’t it be a huge hassle to remove the seeds from each and every one? Happily, online recipes assured me that I wouldn’t need to do anything like that– simply cut the stem ends off and halve them. I’d only be draining the apples of juice anyway, not pureeing them or otherwise eating the solids. It actually sounded kind of fun!
The first step of the recipe sounded simple– prep the apples by cutting off the ends, then cutting them in half. And it was simple. Just extremely tedious. I had just over two pounds of teeny tiny apples, and it took forever to get them all prepped. I can’t imagine how annoying it would’ve been to prepare the six pounds of apples most recipes called for.
Next, I was supposed to put them in a pot, add just enough water to cover them, and then boil them until soft. Fine, that was easy. It took about half an hour until they were soft all the way through.
Next step, draining the juice through a strainer and/or cloth, letting it sit for several hours to get all the juice out. Wait, what? Was I supposed to pour off the cooking water and then let the juice run out of the mushy apples, or was the cooking water considered “juice”? If the former, just how much juice was supposed to run out of the cooked apples, particularly as I wasn’t supposed to press them through the strainer? If the latter, why weren’t there better instructions as to how much water I was supposed to have added in the first place– surely, the size of the pot would make a huge difference in how much water ended up in the “juice.”
The recipes were not helpful, so I took a chance and poured off most of the cooking water (which was looking awfully juice-colored at this point, which should’ve been a clue), then transferred the wet apples to a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer. And waited.
It wasn’t long before the utter lack of juice draining into the bowl made me think that something was wrong. I kept reading recipe after recipe, looking for some hint as to whether I was supposed to have kept the cooking water or not. Of course, once it was too late I did eventually realize that the water was part of the recipe. (sigh)
I gamely kept on with the process, mashing up the apples a little to get them to release more juice and letting the whole thing sit in the fridge all night. I ended up with about a cup of juice left (glad I’d only partially drained off the water), and figured that I could at least make a single small jar of jelly to get something out of the experience.
I poured my single cup of juice into a small saucepan and added sugar, then started boiling away. The recipes indicated that the jelly would be set once it “sheeted” off of a cold spoon, rather than dripping in tiny, fast drops, so I kept dipping an ice-cold spoon into the hot jelly, waiting for it to do anything other than drip. It never did. Finally, I got tired of waiting and proclaimed that the slightly slower drips were the equivalent of sheeting, and called it done.
I poured the scant 1/3 cup of jelly (it reduced a lot, which perhaps should have been a clue) into a mason jar, and put it in the fridge. About an hour later I noticed that the spoon was firmly stuck to the still-sticky pot, both of which were in the sink. Cautiously, I tried to pull it off… no luck. And that was room-temperature jelly… I went to check the jar in the fridge.
Sure enough, the jelly was the texture of rubber cement, or maybe a stale gummy bear. It was possible to get a spoonful out, but spreading was out of the question, and it was really more chewable than anything else. (sigh) So much for my first time making jelly…
Anyway, it was an experience, and I used up the crabapples…