It's that time of year again, Autumn is approaching fast. Whilst some may mourn the loss of Summer, I'm excited - after 2 years in the Tropics I can hardly wait for golden leaves, crisp cold days, misty mornings, hearty casseroles, lighting the woodburning stove, roasting chestnuts... and foraging!
The season of free food is already here and we have a kitchen full of apples, collected from the local hedgerows. Some, I was surprised to find, are good eaters, but others are more tart and fit only for cooking. But that's fine by me because cooking was what I had in mind.
This week I will get though several pounds of sugar and the kitchen will be filled with a vinegary fug as I'm cooking up several batches of both chutney and jelly. I love apple jellies and use them as a condiment for savoury foods, particularly roast meats, or with cheese and biscuits. First up this week was apple and mint jelly. As you might expect this is particularly good with lamb although I'm also partial to some alongside roast chicken. Our mint plants are starting to bolt, getting very tall and straggly, so this was perfect timing to strip off all the leaves prior to cutting them back.
Anything that involves reaching a 'setting point' fills me with a certain amount of trepidation, but I remind myself not to panic, this is not difficult, the pectin in the apples means it sets well. Nothing about the jelly-making process is difficult actually; it may be a little time-consuming, but I like the fact that you make it over 2 days as it spreads out the work. To further allay any fears, know that there is no peeling and coring involved here, the apples are simply washed then roughly chopped and thrown into the pan, pips and all. Wonderfully lazy.
Apple and Mint Jelly
3lb apples - the recipe I use (from the Alphington Church Restoration Fund cookbook, and thanks to Mrs M Bate of Alphington for contributing it) calls for 'green apples' but I use any foraged apples I can get my hands on.
1 1/8 pints water
small bunch fresh mint
1 1/2 pints white vinegar
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
Wash and roughly cut the apples into large chunks - quarters, or smaller I'd say, but this is no time to be precise. Place them in a large pan with the water and the bunch of fresh mint, and simmer until soft and pulpy.
Add the vinegar and boil for 5 minutes. I'd recommend opening the windows when you do this as the boiling vinegar produces some eye-watering fumes.
Strain the appley mixture through a muslin or jelly-bag overnight. This might sound tricky, but it's not. Just place a clean jelly-bag, muslin, or similar piece of fabric into a large bowl, then ladle in the apples. The photo below is actually my apple-chilli jelly which I have started making today, hence the pieces of red chilli you can see, but all these apple jellies work on the same principle.
Gather up the corners (or the tags on the jelly-bag) and hang it above the bowl to drip. I have constructed something using a coathanger and a chair!
The next day tip the apple sludge into the bin or onto your compost heap, and measure the juice back into your large pan. For each pint of juice, add 1 lb of white sugar.
Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached. This usually takes about 15 minutes, but can take a lot longer - just keep testing. I test by dropping a scant teaspoon of the mixture onto a cold plate (keep one in the fridge) and once the mixture has cooled slightly push your finger through it. If it wrinkles, then you're there, it will set.
Skim off any foam (this last batch had lots, but other batches have very little, not sure why), turn off the heat and stir in the chopped mint.
Ladle into sterilised jars and leave to cool. I got 5 medium-sized jars from this batch. The jelly is a beautiful pinkish-red, probably because the apples I used had reddish skins. I like this effect!
Next blog-post: Apple Chilli Jelly!