There’s still a way to go, but gradually I am conquering the mountain of fruits that inhabits my kitchen. Apples and grapes are still turning up by, what seems like, the shed load but the foraged fruits are becoming less plentiful and day by day more jars are filled and shelf space becomes more scarce. The pantry is now looking well stocked up for the winter and it makes the arduous jobs carried out along the way, fade to a distant memory. Like when I pitted cherries until three in the morning or spent over three hours shelling enough cob nuts to fill the tweeniest jar. Bramble scarred and nettle stung hands are at last healing after all the hedgerow foraging for rosehips and sloes. Why do they always grow surrounded by a duvet of nettles as well as having their own built in barbed protection for extra measure? There is still lots to do but at the same time it feels as if the big preserving season is starting to wind down.
Everything made more recently has become more than one thing; canning apple juice produced a jelly bag full of apple pulp that in turn became apple butter; grapes juiced to make chilli jam likewise transformed into grape butter. Apple and damsons cooked and pureed earlier for cheese stretched to make an additional 3 pots of curd and the remainder, two sheets of fruit leather. The other day I had a fundamental thought – Note to self, remember to eat all this stuff!
Sloe gin is maturing nicely and will be ready to drink by Christmas. Still with a colander full of sloes and a good amount of wild crab apples to use up it seems the ideal opportunity to rustle up a jelly and with a plentiful supply of vanilla pods, left over stock from my recently closed emporium, I decided to add them into the mix at the same time. I reckoned that to be an adequate combination of ingredients for my jelly until a handful of japonica fruits, eight small rock hard unyielding specimens, caught my eye, so they might as well join the party as well.
Japonica are the fruit of the ornamental garden shrub Chaenomeles Japonica and are similar to a quince. They are best used for making jelly and are sometimes referred to as jelly apples. I underestimated just what an impact these few fruits would have on this jelly. As soon as they started to cook in with the other ingredients, my house was filled with that fabulous perfumed quince scent. I added them as an afterthought but even with so few fruits they brought a lovely character along, in a ‘less is more’ way. I’m sure this jelly will taste fab without japonica as well, please feel encouraged to make things up as you go along with the ingredients you have to hand. All three main ingredients are high in pectin, the stuff that helps jam to set, so are perfect for a jelly. The end result has a beautiful colour flecked through with vanilla seeds and tastes heavenly. The quantities stated below are the amounts I had at my disposal and are given as a guide. My recommendation is to use approximately twice as many crab apples as sloes and calculate the amount of sugar based on the amount of juice this produces.
CRAB APPLE, SLOE AND JAPONICA JELLY WITH VANILLA
Makes approx 2.2Kg (5 lbs)
775g (1 3/4lbs) sloes, rinsed and drained
1275g (2 3/4lbs) crab apples, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped
a handful of japonica, approx 8 fruits (optional), rinsed drained and cut into quarters
1 vanilla pod
Place the fruits in a large pan. Add enough water to barely cover and heat to a simmer. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, until the fruit is cooked through, mashing the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon and giving it a stir now and again. Remove from the heat and pour into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl to collect the juice. Leave overnight to drip through.
Next day measure the juice and pour it into a jam pan. (Rather than waste the fruit pulp from the jelly bag, you can push it through a sieve or food mill to make a puree then use to make a fruit butter.) For every 600ml (2 1/2cups) juice, add 450g (1lb) sugar. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the sticky seeds inside with the sharp point of a knife. Add the pod and the seeds to the pan.
Place clean jam jars and lids in the oven to sterilise for 20 minutes at 100C (225F) or alternatively prepare a water bath and jars if you intend to can your jelly. Stir over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, then turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil, maintaining until setting point is reached (this took me 20 minutes). To test for this, a blob of syrup on a cold plate will form a skin that wrinkles as you draw your finger across the surface. Remove the vanilla pod then pour into hot jars and seal. Alternatively hot water process for 10 minutes. Refer to previous posts and link for more canning information if you are new to this. Leave till completely cold and set then remember to label.
The crab apple and sloe images are from a set of 50 cards of flowering trees and shrubs produced and given away with Will’s cigarettes in 1924.
Finally, a book recommendation: a recent find and now a favourite, Fruits of the Hedgerow and Unusual Garden Fruits by Charlotte Popescu (published 2005, Cavalier Paperbacks) is a really useful and charming book that I have spent many hours reading through for inspiration and it’s a snip on Amazon.