Sunday 24 October 2010

Apple glut III

We had our first frost of the autumn this week so everything needs to be safely gathered in rather earlier than usual this year. I still have two rows of pink fir apple potatoes in the ground, the chillies are still ripening and the large white beans - the fabes de granja, which are very late this year anyway – won’t make it to maturity before it gets too cold, I think.
So the kitchen is looking rather full at the moment. Pumpkins and squashes curing on the sunniest shelf; the last of the tomatoes stubbornly remaining green on a wide plate in the window, a big bowl of quinces, a netted bag of borlotti beans drying out and strings of shallots and garlic from earlier in the summer. And I’m still working my way through the apples.
We are two jellies down and one to go. The apple and rosewater jelly has a beautiful floral fragrance and is a shimmery pale gold in colour. I was surprised how little rosewater was needed to lift the jelly – just two teaspoonfuls to 2l of apple juice.

Apple and rosewater jelly
First make the apple juice:
5-6lb cooking apples
300ml apple vinegar or cider vinegar
250ml lemon juice (that’s six lemons, the way I squeeze them)
1.2l water

Wash/rinse the apples. Put the vinegar and lemon juice in a very large pan. Roughly chop the apples and add them to the juice. Don’t peel or core them, but do remove any stalk and bad bits.
Add the water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 45 minutes until the apples are very mushy.
While the apples are simmering, rig up your jelly bag. I used to tie jelly bags up with string and suspend them from cupboard doors, until we refurbished the kitchen and I found that none of the cupboard door handles are high enough – there isn’t enough clearance between the handle and the worktop to suspend a jelly bag with a bowl underneath.
I’ve resorted to the time-honoured method of upending one kitchen chair on another. The bowl to catch the juice sits in the (inverted) seat of the chair, then I tie a big  metal colander by its handles to each upside-down chair leg, so that the colander hangs high over the bowl. The jelly bag sits in the colander – in fact, it’s not really a jellybag, just a very large piece of butter muslin, draped over the sides of the colander.
Ladle the appley mush and all its liquor into the butter muslin and leave to drip overnight. Don’t be tempted to help it along by stirring it or pushing at it  - this will make the resulting jelly cloudy, so just let it drip.

Next day:
Get some jars together and sterilise them by washing in very hot soapy water, rinsing in very hot water and then drying/warming them, on their sides in an oven heated to 120 degrees. They can sit happily in the oven while you get on with the rest of the jelly, I find it impossible to estimate at this stage how many jars I need, so I always wash and sterilise what looks to me like far too much.
Measure out how much juice you have, and pour into a very large pan. Then (this is so much easier in imperial measurement), for every pint of apple juice in the pan, add 1lb sugar. Next add 2 teaspons of rosewater. Heat the juice and sugar slowly at first, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Taste the juice and add a little more rosewater if you think the taste is very faint. Once happy with that, raise the heat to bring it to the boil. Once boiling, boil hard.
Apple juice doesn’t take long to set. Start testing after five minutes, then every 2-3 minutes after that. Spoon out 2 teaspoonsful of juice from the pan on to a saucer. Leave for a minute or so to cool a bit, then push a forefinger through the middle of the juice puddle. When the mixture wrinkle as you push the finger through, and the juice won’t flow back to meet in the middle again in your finger’s slipstream, you have reached a set. Turn off heat and skim the surface of the jelly. Retrieve the warmed jars and ladle the jelly into them – I use a strainer as well if there still some floating bits in the jelly. Seal the jars and leave to cool.

Apple jelly with a hint of mint also works. I wanted to keep the mint reasonably subtle rather than producing a green sludge, and also I over-enthusiastically threw the chopped mint leaves into the jelly *before* I skimmed it. So when I did skim it, I ended up removing quite a lot of mint as well. Ahem.

But, you know what? It’s prettier, and the flavour isn’t overpowering. I think I might prefer it.

Apple jelly with a hint of mint
Apple juice as above

Sugar, as above
A large handful, maybe two large handfuls, of mint.

Remove the stalks from the mint and chop finely. Make the apple juice and jelly as above (though minus the rosewater, obviously) and when it reaches setting point, turn off the heat and skim the jelly meticulously. Leave for about five minutes. Add the chopped mint and stir well. Leave the jelly again and then stir to make sure that the mint is being held in suspension in the jelly and not all rising up to the top.
Ladle into jars as before, and seal. Leave to cool and keep an eye on them. If the mint leaves are all huddling together, invert the jars for a minute or so to let the mint flecks resettle.

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