From M., 12 January 2011, crabapples – making a better jelly?
Q: In about a month’s time (it’s summer here) I will be able to get my hands on a large supply (relatively speaking) of crab apples – variety unknown. I will combine these with my Mallus Deliscious [sic] to make crab apple jelly – somthing I adore and always on the scrounge for more fruit. I have made crab apple jelly in the past, and it is very good, but I am looking for ways to add some subtle spice to the flavour. I was thinking of cinnamon or cloves (in small quantities. Oded Schwartz suggests adding chilli. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Thanks for your question. When I was a kid, we had a couple of crabapple trees in the front yard of our Wisconsin home. I remember picking up a couple of the fallen fruits when I was about five or six, taking a bite, and being completely revolted. They’re really sour, astringent, and obviously nothing I would ever put in my mouth again without a lot of sugar. After that first and only experience eating crabapples, I decided they weren’t good for anything except throwing over the roof or at the fence – what my husband calls “chucking at things.” Apparently, he had the same experience with crabapples as a kid.
Because of their extreme sourness, crabapples aren’t part of the normal fruit repertoire. That said, they’re related to eating apples – both are members of the Malus family, as you noted above. Malic acid, which comes from the word malus, is present in both, and is responsible for the refreshing sourness of eating apples and crabapples (and wine, from tart grapes). And although they aren’t eaten out of hand, crabapples are an excellent source of pectin, which accounts for their popularity as a jelly fruit. And I agree with you – crabapple jelly is delicious. It’s a clear, bright red, tart, and not as one-dimensionally sweet as apple jelly. It’s also a specialty of the home kitchen, the farmstand, and the roadside market, since crabapples are not grown in the United States for commercial purposes (at least not on any meaningful scale).
The University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) provides an excellent resource for making jams and jellies, as well as for other preservation arts, such as canning, freezing, and smoking. The NCHFP page provides a recipe for crabapple jelly. I haven’t made it before, but the NCHFP is absolutely authoritative. In fact, if you ever have any jelly-related troubleshooting issues, the NCHFP should be your first troubleshooting resource. In the interest of brevity, I will not reproduce the NCHFP recipe here.
Anyway, to your question. Cinnamon and clove are both excellent additions to crabapple jelly. You must use the whole cinnamon stick and whole cloves, and simmer them along with the whole fruit before straining through a jelly bag. If you don’t, or if you decide to use ground cinnamon or ground clove, your jelly will be flecked with the ground spice. Don’t overspice – half a cinnamon stick and two cloves per kg/2.2 lbs fruit should be plenty. You may also want to try adding the pod of half a vanilla bean per kg/2.2 lbs fruit. Finally, for a fresh note, try lemon zest or mint leaves. Use the zest from one lemon (cut in large, wide strips if you can, and using the yellow zest only – avoid the bitter white pith) or about four springs of mint tied together per kg/2.2 lbs fruit. In the case of lemon zest or mint, add when boiling the juice and sugar and remove just before the jelly sets.
It’s interesting that you should mention the use of chile. I have read accounts of Laotian immigrants to the United States who have eaten crabapples with a condiment made from chile, shrimp paste, garlic, lemongrass, and lime leaf. That’s probably more than you bargained for, though. Stick with the chile – I don’t know what you have in Australia, but for a bright, grassy, vegetal quality, you can use a fresh green chile, like serrano or jalepeño. For a pure heat without any green notes, a bright red dried chile like cayenne or chile de arbol are good. For some sweetness and fruitiness (and a prune/raisin-like quality), choose a dried, dark chile like ancho, pasilla, or guajillo. These tend not to add much heat. For smoke and heat, try chipotle. Again, as with the cinnamon and clove, add these whole to the fruit while cooking, and strain out through the jelly bag. Start with about 100g (1/4 lb) fresh chile green chile or one dried chile per kg/2.2 lb crabapple (the small dried chiles like chipotle are much hotter and richer than the larger chiles).
Finally, consider combining crabapple with another fruit or a flower. Crabapples pair well with regular apples, raspberries, and blackberries. Rose petals, if you have access to them, are an excellent addition to the jelly, lending a delicate floral note. First, extract the scent from the rose petals. Per kg/2.2 lbs of fruit, use about a pint by volume of rose petals (I am aware this is hardly a scientific measurement). Wash them well in a container of water and then dry in a salad spinner. Place the rose petals in a container with a lid to fill (e.g., fill a pint container with rose petals, or fill a quart container, etc.) and fill with boiling water. Cover and store for 24 hours. Strain the next day and collect the liquid. Proceed as usual with processing the crabapples for juice. Combine the rose liquid with the crabapple juice. You will need to add both more sugar (50% more by weight than provided for conventional jelly), and additional pectin.