Crabapple Jelly

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.

You’re done!

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.

Sour Cherry Jam

One bright summer morning a few years ago when I was shopping at the Farmers Market in Cable, Wisconsin, a small carton of bright red cherries caught my eye.

“Pie cherries?” I asked.

“You bet,” said the young woman sitting behind her table, “I have one tree, but it gave us a lot of cherries this year.”

“How much for the carton?”

She looked a little uncomfortable as she answered, “Three dollars.”

She relaxed when I asked whether she had any more. I already had thoughts of a cherry pie like my mother used to make.

The cherry vendor retrieved two more cartons from below the table. One was only half full. “I’ll take them all. How much do I owe you.”

“Would seven dollars be okay?” Soon I was on my way back to the cabin with my treasure.

A day later and home in New Richmond, I called our friend Rich to ask if I could borrow the cherry pitter that he and his wife Audrey had bought on one of their many visits to Door County, the cherry district of Wisconsin. Rich had loaned it to me a few years earlier when we brought back cherries from Michigan.

The cherry pitter worked great, but pitting nearly three pounds of cherries convinced me that it was too hot to bake a pie. Thus came the inspiration to make a sour cherry jam that would taste like the best part of a cherry pie—the cherries.

Mom called them “pie cherries.” She bought a large tin can of frozen pie cherries every year from a man with a refrigerator truck who stopped at our house. He was from Door County, which is probably why I used to think that Wisconsin was a leading state for sour cherry production. However, though Wisconsin does grow a lot of sour cherries, we rank far behind Michigan and even behind Utah, Washington and New York.

We didn’t have a big chest freezer when I was growing up, so we had a flurry of cherry pies after the cherry man had left. Mom did keep some in jars in the refrigerator freezer, and although I don’t remember it, she may have made cherry jam. The recipe below is not from my mother, but I am sure she would approve of it.

As with all jams and jellies, preparing the fruit is the hard part. Once that is done, it takes only a few minutes to make the finished product. Here is the way to do it.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups pitted and chopped sour cherries
4 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. butter
6 oz. Sure-Jell fruit pectin
1/4 -1/2 tsp. almond extract

DIRECTIONS:

Wash and sterilize enough jars and lids to hold at least seven cups. This recipe makes about six cups of jam, but it is wise to have that extra jar in case you have a tablespoon or two of jam left over after filling six jars.

Sterilize the jars by washing them thoroughly and inverting them in a nine by thirteen-inch baking pan that has about an inch of water in it. Set the pan on the range, bring the water to boiling and simmer the pan for a few minutes, tipping the jars slightly to allow the hot air to escape. Turn off the heat and transfer the jars to drain on a cooling rack a few minutes before the jam is done.

Wash, stem, and pit the cherries. Chop them into small pieces, an eighth to a third of an inch dice.

Measure the sugar into a bowl and set it aside. Have the bottle of almond extract ready for use.

Put the cherries, pectin and a half teaspoon of butter into a Dutch oven or soup pot over moderate heat. Stir the mixture almost continuously until it comes to a rolling boil. A rolling boil is one that keeps bubbling when you stir it.

While the chopped cherries are heating, put a small saucepan with enough paraffin in it to make two thin layers of paraffin on the jars on a burner over very low heat. Be careful not to heat the paraffin more than just to melt it.

When the cherries have come to a rolling boil, stir in the sugar, bring the mixture back to a rolling boil and boil for one minute, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat, add the almond extract and stir for a minute or so. If necessary, skim off any foam. There is seldom much foam on this jam.

Using a dipper and a funnel, fill the hot jars, leaving one-third to one-half-inch head space. If necessary, use a piece of moistened paper towel to remove any dribbled jam from the inside of the tops of the jars.

Use a tablespoon to put a thin layer of melted paraffin on top of the jam in each jar and allow the jars to cool without moving them. After the jam is completely cooled, add a second thin layer of paraffin.

NOTE: This year, someone beat me to the cherry lady’s table at the Farmers Market, so I had to make do with unsweetened frozen sour cherries from the supermarket. They worked fine and were already pitted, so making the jam was a snap. However, after I chopped and measured the fruit, there were a few cherries still left in the package.

Since I didn’t want to waste those beautiful cherries, I just risked it and added the two extra tablespoons of chopped fruit to the mixture. I added another tablespoon of sugar and two tablespoons of cold water that I used to rinse some pieces of cherry out of the measuring cup. All went well because cherries have a lot of natural pectin, but be careful not to overdo this.

It is important to measure things exactly for most jam and jelly recipes to ensure the proper proportions needed for jelling. In particular, do not try changing the proportions of ingredients for chokecherry jelly or orange marmalade. I speak from experience.