Just about 5 years ago to the date, I attended a jam and jelly making class, put on by Blue Chair Fruit‘s Rachel Saunders. This class changed my life forever (Kris describes it as “possessed”). That fall, I purchased a freezer full of local fruit while in season. I made jams, jellies, marmalades, butters, sauces–you name it. Every waking moment I was thinking about what I could put in a jar next. Every day off all winter long our house smelled just like grandma’s on a Sunday.
So fast forward.
I finally realized I missed one important part of Rachel Saunders’ class. Rachel preached “pick what is in season and process it when it is in its prime and ripe”. So now I try to pick and process as much as possible while fresh. Ok, I still have fruit that I freeze, but let’s face it, “in-season” tends to happen all at once in Montana.
Here is a recent foraging excursion Kris and I went on two weeks ago, and the fruits of our labor.
The trees were loaded this year, and in no time at all we had 25 lbs of tart little crab apples. Now starts the discussion about what to make? I am always cautioned not to get too weird, and to control the spice level so other people can enjoy whatever I am making. This batch of crab apples will make Crab Apple Fireball Jelly, Crab Apple Butter and Crab Apple vinegar. I’ve included the recipe for the jelly below. Enjoy!
- 10 lbs Crab Apples
- 16 Cups Water
- 15 Cups Granulated Sugar
- 2/3 Cups Lemon Juice
- ½ Cup Fireball Whiskey, plus some for the cook.
Wash the crab apples, remove the stems and and cut in half. Place in stainless steel stock pot, add the water and and slowly simmer over low heat covered until soft, about 20 minutes, do not stir it breaks up crab apples and clouds the liquid.
In a cheese cloth lined mesh strainer strain the boiled crab apples. The crab apple juice is for the jelly. Reserve the boiled crab apples for making the butter.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Wash the appropriate number of jars, ring and lids. No need to sterilize the rings and lids in the oven or hot water. Place the jars on a sheet pan lined with a wire rack and sterilize in a 250-degree oven for 30 minutes.
Place 3 spoons on a plate in the freezer for testing the jelly.
Place the strained crab apple juice in the copper jam pan, add the 15 cups of granulated sugar and lemon juice and bring to a boil and simmer, scraping off scum as mixture boils. Save the sugar scum for the crab apple butter.
As the crab apple jelly reduces, it will darken in color. Turn the heat down continue to skim the boiling mixture and simmer until the jelly reaches your desired thickness. This can be tested by placing the jelly on one of the frozen spoons and cooling. The set point will be plus or minus 220 degrees. This batch set at 219 degrees.
Add ½ cup of Fireball Whiskey and continue to simmer until mixture returns to 219 degrees.
Pour jelly into jars leaving ¼ inch head space, screw on rings and lids. Heat in 250-degree oven for 15 minutes to seal. Remove the jars of jelly from the oven and let cool at room temperature. The jars will pop as they cool and seal. This my favorite part and the cooking process and means success. Retighten the rings as the jelly cools. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use immediately. Sealed jars can be stored at room temperature.