Every so often, I search through the Kijiji ‘free stuff’ ads, just to see what’s out there. After all, you never know when someone might be giving away something you really need, or be looking for something you want to get rid of.
Last week, I saw a post from a city dweller who had a crabapple tree that was full of ripe fruit they were not going to be able to use. If we’d come pick them, we could take all we wanted! Well, free fruit sounded good to me, and the house was located not too far into the city making it a reasonable distance to drive. The Boy and I packed up some containers, a stepladder and our water bottle and headed into town.
The tree was indeed laden with apples, branches sagging towards the ground under the weight of fruit. Fortunately the tree had a lovely climbable shape, so The Boy headed up into the branches and picked from up there while I climbed the stepladder and took what I could reach from below. In the end, we had approximately three laundry baskets full of crabapples – and there were still plenty of apples left on the tree.
I’ve spent the last four days preserving this generous gift: I scavenged the house (and my mother’s basement) for jars then purchased four dozen more, plus three 10 kg bags of sugar and several boxes of pectin. Supplies at the ready, and with my mother’s generous assistance, we made over fifty jars of jelly, applesauce, and canned juice. The juice that remained when we ran out of jars is now fermenting in the crock pot (who knows, it might make a decent fruit wine, and it’s worth a try).
It was a lot of work, but it’s the kind of work that paces itself quite nicely, so you can easily sit down and rest in between stages if you need to. I kept the computer on the kitchen table and looked up recipes, checked email, and played Scrabble with The Reluctant Farmer (who is working out of town for two weeks) as I worked. The jelly making process itself isn’t complicated, and the various tasks seem to naturally flow together, making an assembly line that can be run by one person, but goes faster with two.
Here’s what it looks like: put your canning jars in the dishwasher for sterilization. While it’s running, wash and load some apples into the big stock pot and set it to simmer. While that’s simmering, take the juice from the previous jelly bag extraction and start a batch of jelly (measure and heat the juice with pectin, lemon juice and sugar, then bring it to a fast boil). When the jelly is done and poured into jars, still steaming from the dishwasher, you can remove the stock pot from the stove and let it sit on the floor while you get the jars into the canner. While the canner boils, empty the crock pot of juice, then mash the fruit in the stock pot and pour it into the jelly bag to get more juice (I normally use my Lee Valley jelly bag setup, but for quantities this huge, I took one of The Reluctant Farmer’s t-shirts, sewed the hem shut, and put a stick through the armholes to hang it from two chair backs so it could drain into the pickle crock). Wash some more apples and reload the stock pot, then start the next batch of jelly. You can probably make two or three batches of jelly from one stock pot’s worth of juice, so take your turn in Scrabble while the canner boils. When the juice has all dripped out of the fruit pulp, dump the contents of the t-shirt juice bag into a bucket and take it out to the chickens.
Repeat as needed until crabapples are gone. :)
We now have over fifty jars of preserves: some large Gem jars of canned juice (which can be used to stretch other fruits into larger batches of jam or jelly, or used in a punch); some apple sauce (crabapples make sauce the same way regular apples do, and I found a recipe for applesauce pie that I want to try); several jars of syrup (The Boy and I both like oatmeal for breakfast, and a dollop of fruit syrup mixed in makes it perfect); and, of course, an awful lot of jelly. We have plain crabapple jelly, as you’d expect, ideal for glazing pork or fruit flans, mixing into porridge or baking, or eating on toast. We also added chopped apricots or peaches to several batches of jelly, which produces a really interesting result: the fruit more or less disintegrates during the cooking and the fine pulp distributes itself throughout the jelly, adding both flavour and texture.
Of course, it would take us years to eat through this much jelly and sauce and syrup ourselves … but it’ll keep for years if need be, as it’s all been processed with full sugar and a hot water bath. Besides, it makes a wonderful gift - just about everyone enjoys a jar of home made jelly. I’m also hoping to make some trades: if you’ve got too much of whatever fruits or pickles or jams you put up this year and want to swap for crabapple, let me know, then we can both have variety in our pantries!