Applefest 2014, Part 3: Apple Jelly

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Jelly is one of those things that I rarely use, but will usually stock for the occasional irrational craving (which often leads to my using a whole jar in a week). I can’t say I’ve looked very hard for it at the supermarket these past few years, but I’m pretty sure that the majority of stuff on Finnish shelves is berry preserves. Which is just fine most of the time, but it hit me last autumn that I really wouldn’t mind some apple jelly in the pantry. Lucky for me, there was a glut of apples to process.

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Part of my apple jelly whim might have been due to the lovely autumnal color of my later batches of apple juice. These were made from a mix of green eating apples, blush cooking apples, and crabapples. Mixing apples also gives the juice much more depth than using only one variety.

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The jam/jelly making process usually starts with washing the jars to be used in hot, soapy water, then popping them an unheated oven. The oven then gets turned up to 120C/248F and allowed to heat up. When the preheating light goes off, I turn off the oven and let the jars sit there until I’m done cooking and ready to fill them. The jars stay plenty hot for the half hour or so it takes to tweak the jam/jelly. I use thicker jars especially made for home canning when I’m making something that has the possibility of becoming a gift. The stuff that I plan to keep for home consumption usually gets canned in recycled pasta sauce/jam/pesto jars, which are not as cute as the home preserve jars, but have always worked just as well for me. Of course, liability issues that might result from using jars not intended for recycled canning mean that I won’t outright recommend you do this, but I can state that I’ve used them in this manner with no trouble or regrets for years.

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This is the most common brand of powdered pectin I’ve found in Finnish stores. The yellow packet is for jellies and marmalade, with an ingredients list of fructose, pectin, malic acid and sodium benzoate. The first three help gel and set, while the last one is a preservative. I had to add additional pectin to my apple juice because most of the apples I used were extremely ripe, which significantly brought down their levels of pectin. While sour green apples can be a great source of pectin for other fruit preserves, my very sweet steamed apple juice seemed to be too overcooked and overripe to set all by itself. I tried with one pot and had to recook it with this powder after it became obvious that juice alone could achieve nothing further than a thick syrupy state.

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I went along with the instructions on the packet, for the most part: Bring 1 liter of unsweetened (well, no extra sugar added, anyway — it was pretty sweet already) apple juice to a boil. Add in the packet of pectin and stir until fully dissolved, cooking for one minute. Gradually stir in 750g of sugar, a little at a time. Cook for 1 minute, calculating cook time from when the mixture reaches a boil. Take the pot off heat, skim off foam and pour into sterilized jars. I used a bit less than the recommended amount of sugar, to compensate for the very ripe apples.

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I kept a small bowl of the jelly in the fridge overnight to see how well the gel would set. It did end up getting very firm.

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Jars of freshly made apple jelly, glowing like jewels in the late autumn sunlight. While the jelly was boiling, I also had a pot going on a back burner that boiled the metal jar lids. It’s important for everything to be very hot while canning, so that temperature fluctuations don’t damage the glass, cause a failure to seal or lead to less-than-adequate sterilization. Earlier this year, some friends finally got me a home canning set so that I could maneuver hot metal lids with a magnetic wand and reach into boiling hot pots with my specialized tongs to grab whole jars by the grooves in their necks. It should be noted that I had managed to preserve plenty over the years without these specialized tools. Using tongs and towels to get at the lids and jars could often result in getting wet and scalded.

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A large smear of homemade apple jelly over a slice of buttered bread. It’s just so much more satisfying to pop open a jar of jelly that you made rather than bought. Since no two batches of the juice were alike, each pot of jelly ended up having its own personality. Beat that, store jelly produced in a vat!

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