A good crabapple jelly should be crystal clear, devoid of the flotsam and jetsam of bog-standard jams, and yet still be packed full of flavour. Made properly, it should be firm but not unyielding, while still possessing a degree of wobble - just like a pair of gym-honed buttocks.
Unfortunate similes aside, crabapple jelly isn't hard to make but patience is a must. Watching your muslin bag full of cooked crabapple slowly (ever so slowly) drip juice into a bowl can drive you to the point of frustration, making you want to grip the bag and wring it for all that it's worth. Resist the temptation - fixing the subsequent mess is time consuming, as you'll soon see.
Where did I get my crabapples? The orchard uses crabapple trees as pollinators to attract bees. In spring, they produce amazing amounts of blossom; after the bees tend to the pollinators, they then move on to pollinate apple trees in the vicinity. I'm not sure what variety they are, but the ones I used were small, about 3-4cm in diameter, a candy apple red colour and had a sweet/sour taste. I added ginger and star anise to my first batch of jelly, figuring that some asian flavours would suit that particular profile.
Down to business. I picked 5kg of crabapples. Halving them, they were placed in a large stock pot (find yourself something with a solid base so the fuit doesn't burn) with a little water, star anise and a hunk of grated ginger. Slowly bring to a simmer and stir often so they don't catch and burn. During this time, they'll turn to mush. With my 5kg, it took about 3/4 of an hour.
While they're cooking, start organising for the next stage. You'll need to have a cloth bag (muslin, or even a pillow slip will do), something to hang the bag from (I suspended mine from the arm of my kitchen window located right over the sink - it's a very old house) and a bowl or jug to collect the juice.
Once mushy, remove the pot from the heat and pour your goop into your bag. Suspend over your container and leave to drip out (in my case, I left it overnight). Waking the next day to expect a jug brimming with juice, I instead found about 100ml. 5kg = 100ml? Peeved, I disregarded the recipe, and squeezed the bag for all that it was worth...
While I ended up with plenty of juice (over a litre!), it was as murky as milo. I passed it through another pillow slip, and while a little cleaner, it wasn't flash. I left it to settle, thinking the solids would sink and I could just decant it - no good, still muddy. Then it occurred to me: cloth deep fryer filters!
They're designed to filter the solid material out of cooking oil so it can be reused, but we use them at work for all manner of things, such as removing the water from yoghurt to make it dense and better suited for whipping. They're quite thick and could help me fix my mess, so grabbing a couple, I took them home - they worked a treat!
There was a surprising amount of pulp left in the filter, and just to be sure, I passed the juice through the second one. The liquid was surprisingly clean, although I couldn't see all the way to the bottom of the bowl - no matter! Time for the final stage.
Make sure you have some sterilised jars and lids at hand. Discard the pulp and measure the amount of juice you have - you're going to need one cup of sugar for every cup of juice. Place it all in a pot, heat and stir to dissolve the sugar, then slowly bring to the boil. If you have a sugar thermometer, set occurs at 105c; otherwise place a plate in the freezer. After 5-10 minutes of boiling, take the plate out and drop a teaspoon of jelly on it and leave for a few minutes. Nudge the jelly with your finger; if it wrinkles, it's set. Alternatively, you can run your finger through the jam. If it forms a trench, it's ready. Skim off any scum should you feel the need (it's not dirt or debris; just froth caused by air working its way to the surface). Pour the hot jelly into your jars and seal, then place in a cool, dark spot. Once opened, keep in the fridge. I made about 900ml of jelly.
Isn't it pretty! This photo doesn't quite show it but the jelly was a beautiful rose colour and very clear (I think the photo at the top shows that to better effect). It tasted great too; I used three star anise and about 50g of grated ginger. You could discern the two ingredients but it didn't overwhelm the crabapple flavour - not bad given that they're quite dominant flavours and the amounts used were pure guess work.
With my second batch, I again had about 5kg of crabapples. This time though, I split it between three bags and got a lot more juice than last time (without squeezing), although still not quite as much as I expected (600ml).
A big thank you to food writer and columnist, Alessandra Zecchini - this is her recipe, and it appeared in New Zealand Gardener.