My Grandpa Hopp introduced me to hummingbirds when I was a toddler. I don’t remember those very early years, but Grandpa told me about them when I was older. By the time I was four or five, I remember his sitting with me in the stone porch and pointing out the hummingbirds as they swarmed around Grandma Hopp’s big crabapple tree when it was full of white and pink blossoms.
One time when Mom and Dad had taken my sisters and me for an afternoon visit, Grandpa Hopp took me outside and had me lie down on my back under the big red pines a few yards north of the porch steps. He lay down beside me. “I want to show you something,” he said “just keep watching.”
All at once a ruby throated hummingbird flashed into view next to a branch about twenty feet above the ground. Like a helicopter sliding onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, the bird slipped over the branch and disappeared. A moment later, it headed toward the roses along the house.
“She has a nest up there,” said Grandpa, “just watch and you’ll see.”
It wasn’t long before I saw what he meant. A tail or bill would appear briefly, and I could even see little strands of something that might have been parts of the nest hanging over one side of the branch. Back and forth she flew, carrying nectar to her chick or chicks in the nest. That was probably the day that I fell in love with hummingbirds.
Before that they were just little birds that could hover in the air and stick their bills into flowers. They swarmed the crabapple tree and later harvested nectar from the rosebushes and tiger lilies. Grandpa told me that hummingbirds helped pollinate the apple trees so they would produce the apples that Grandma and my mother used to make crabapple jelly and pickled apples.
I have never tried pickling crabapples, but crabapple jelly is one of my favorites.
Crabapple jelly is one of the simplest jellies to make. All you need for the jelly is crabapples, water and sugar. If you want to store the jelly, you will of course need some jelly jars and paraffin or half pint canning jars with lids and rings. Here is what you do.
TO EXTRACT THE JUICE:
Wash and remove any leaves, etc. from at least three quarts of ripe crabapples. Cut the apples in quarters, discarding any discolored or soft pieces. Don’t worry about the stems, seeds or flower ends. Put the chopped apples into a large pot and add water to within an inch or two below the top of the apples. Bring the apples to a boil, cover the pot and cook the apples for twenty to twenty-five minutes, stirring them occasionally. You will end up with apple pulp. Do not try to mash the apples.
Strain the hot pulp through several layers of cheesecloth or a dishtowel nested in a colander or through a jelly bag on its stand. Just allow the juice to drain out of the pulp. Do not squeeze the pulp or you will end up with cloudy jelly. At this point the juice will look slightly cloudy, but it will clarify when you make the jelly. You can make the jelly right away with the hot juice or you can refrigerate the juice and make the jelly later.
PREPARING THE JARS:
While the juice is heating and boiling, wash and sterilize your jars and lids. Wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and drain. Then put the jars upside down in a shallow pan of water (a cake pan with an inch of water works well) over a burner on your cook top. Bring the water to a slow boil and hold it for at least ten minutes. You will probably need to tip the jars slightly to allow expanding air out of the jars during this period. Turn off the heat and allow the jars to sit in the hot water for a few minutes, then remove them to a rack and allow to drain. Put the lids into a small pan of hot water and boil them while you are sterilizing the jars.
TO MAKE THE JELLY:
Measure the juice into a large saucepan or pot. If the pan is more than one-third full of juice, transfer it to a larger one. Add one cup of white sugar for each cup of juice. Since this is a proportional measure, you can use all the juice you have. Just make sure that the juice is matched with an equal amount of sugar.
Turn the heat on high under the juice and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Clip a jelly/candy thermometer to the side of the pot with the end submerged in the juice. Keep the heat on medium high until the juice is boiling well, at which time you will see a light colored foam rise to the surface. Turn the heat down to keep the juice at a low boil and skim off the foam. Turn the heat up again and repeat the process as necessary, stirring the juice to keep it boiling evenly.
Watch the temperature of the juice as displayed on the thermometer. The temperature will gradually rise from about 212º. The jelly is ready to put in jars when the thermometer reads 220º at sea level. The jelling temperature drops by one degree for every five hundred feet above sea level. Thus, in New Richmond, Wisconsin, (elevation 981 feet) the jelly is ready to put in jars when the temperature reaches 218º.
Fill the jars within a half inch of the tops. If you are using the hot bath process, wipe the tops of the jars, screw on the lids and process in your canner the time recommended for your altitude. We still use the paraffin sealing method: Wipe the inside of the jar tops if necessary and spoon a thin layer of hot paraffin on top of the jelly. After the jelly has cooled for several hours and the paraffin is hard, spoon a second thin layer to ensure an airtight seal. Screw lids or fasten wax paper on the jars to cover the tops.
NOTES: If you bottle the jelly before it reaches 220º you will end up with something resembling syrup, so use it as syrup. If you forget to take it off the heat when it reaches 222º, you may get jelly that you can cut into cubes. If so, cut it into cubes and serve it as an unusual experiment.
After several hundred years of preserving juices by adding sugar and cooking them into jellies, then covering the results with fat or wax, cooks are now being warned that this is not safe. Hence the recommendation to sterilize the jelly in the jars in a water bath. If you are going to use the paraffin method, work quickly to get a film of hot paraffin on the hot jelly to reduce the chance that mold spores will survive on the surface.