I wasn’t really planning on posting about this. But last weekend, when about four crisis were swirling around me, threatening to make my head implode, I did something rash: I took an unplanned trip out of town.
Yes, I know. What a concept. I didn’t freak out for weeks searching train or plane tickets, or researching hotels or restaurants. I just called up Romain, we got in the car, and split. We made it about an hour outside of town and then settled in for the weekend, warming up the house with a raging fire and stocking the refrigerator with my new love, Vinho Verde, a light Portuguese wine that invites leisurely weekend drinking.
But sprawled out on the sofa with a stack of magazines, looking out the back door, I noticed an apple tree with quite a few apples swaying from the craggly limbs. Really, I wasn’t planning on doing anything but attacking the last three months of New Yorkers that had been idling in my apartment, but I just couldn’t stand it anymore, so I dragged out a ladder and went out to pick them.
I figured I’d gather just a sizable bag of apples, and perhaps make some applesauce or an apple crisp, but when Romain climbed the tree and gave it a good shake, a thundering mass of apples dropped to the ground with a thud. (Of course, he didn’t warn me first, but luckily I escaped injury—and consequently, so did he.)
Even after I made a giant batch of compote de pommes out in the country, when I got back to Paris, I realized I had three jumbo cases of apples still remaining (which I am storing on my roof) and needed to make something that uses up a lot of them, so I decided to make Apple Jelly.
I don’t have a jelly bag or a holder, and went to two stores, including the world’s most famous pastry supply shop, MORA, and the giant department store, the BHV, and of course, neither had them in stock.
I was going to go on a rant, but the salesgirl at BHV was perhaps the nicest person I’ve met in that store in my many years of trying to navigate the craziness of that place (she even showed me where the escalator was, which finding it is no small feat in there), and I bought a length of étamine (gauze) from her, and fashioned my own ‘jelly bag’ by lining a colander with it, suspending it over a stockpot to filter and collect the pectin-rich juices.
As mentioned, I wasn’t planning to write about this, but one thing led to another, and when I smeared a crust of grainy bread with Bordier salted butter and piled a slippery spoonful of the warm jelly onto the bread, and took a bite, it was one of the few times in my life that something I put in my mouth made me stop whatever I was doing or thinking about, and I just stood there, enjoying the mingling of the bread, the salty butter, and the sweet fruity jelly. It was so worth almost getting bonked on the head by an apple for.
I don’t know what kind of apples I used, but they were tart and flavorful, and free. A mix of ripe and unripe apples works best (unripe apples have more pectin in them) and it’s really unnecessary to use perfect, or pricey specimens. And if you have any trouble finding apples to use, I have a few I could probably spare…
Six jars, 1 cup, 250 ml, each
The guidelines I used were from the National Center for Food Preservation, and said to cook the apple jelly to 220ºF (104ºC), which will be the setting point, but I ended up cooking mine further. So it’s best to test your jelly by dropping a dab on a chilled plate, putting it in the freezer for a few minutes, then checking to see if the mixture has jelled by nudging it with your finger and seeing if it mounds and wrinkles. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can use this method to test your jelly.
One pound (450 g) of apples cooked will yield about 1 cup (250 ml) strained juice from the cooked apples. So if you have less apples, or you get a different yield (since all apples are different), you can use that as a guideline and add 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice per cup of strained apple juice.
- 8 pounds (3.75 kg) apples
- 10 cups (2.25l) water
- 6 cups (1 kg, 200g) sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoon Calvados, brandy, or Cognac
1. Rinse the apples and cut them coarsely into chunks, then put them and the cores and seeds, into a very large stockpot.
2. Add the water, cover, and bring to a boil. When bubbling, reduce the heat a bit, leave the lid askew, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the apples are tender and cooked through.
3. Line a mesh colander with a piece of muslin cloth or a few folds of cheesecloth (or use a jelly bag and stand) and set it over a deep bowl, then ladle the apples and the liquid into the colanders. (I used two lined colanders since it was quite a bit of apples.)
4. Let stand overnight (or at least three hours), and no matter how tempting, do not press down at any time on the apples to extract more juice or the jelly will get cloudy.
5. The next day, measure out the juice. (See Note below about the apples.) You should have 8 cups (2l). Pour it into a stockpot fitted with a candy thermometer, add the sugar and lemon juice, and bring to a boil. During cooking, if any white scum rises to the surface, skim it off.
6. Cook until the temperature reaches 220ºF (104ºC). At that point, turn off the heat and begin testing the jelly on a chilled plate in the freezer, using the method mentioned in the headnote. When it wrinkles and holds its shape, it’s done. If not, continue to cook and re-test it at intervals. This batch set at 230ºF (110ºC).
7. Remove from heat, stir in the liquor, and ladle into clean jars, then cap tightly.
Storage: I don’t preserve my jelly or jams in heat-treated jars because I eat them quickly, but store mine in the refrigerator where they’ll keep for several months. If you wish to preserve them, you can find instructions for canning at the University of Georgia website.
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