These are apples for tiny people, elves who live at the bottom of the garden, rabbits who think they’ve hit the jackpot, the winged ones who are delighted to stab away at such bulbous berries. But to us humans, they remain unacknowledged, neglected, rejected. We’d much rather import blueberries from Poland in little plastic boxes than buy these diminutive apples *sighs* #sortitout
Crab apples have generous pectin levels, therefore the margin of error for first time jelly makers (moi) is generous and it’s easy to get right. From a bag full of the little golden balls – Golden Hornets in this case – come jars full of jewel-imbued fragrant jelly for toast, crumpets, an accompaniment to roasted game and a luxurious addition to gravy.
I was lucky enough to get my apples from John Harris, gardener at Tresillian House. As keeper of one of the only working Victorian walled gardens in the country, acclaimed moon gardener and organic gardener, he is sought out from far and wide. From Radio 4 to Monty Don, Country Living to the BBC, River Cottage to the RHS, many make the pilgrimage to his potting shed to learn the secrets of his art. His reaction to media interest is refreshingly un-PR: “I tell ‘em they can come if they want to.”
As I pick up the crab apples from the ground, barely making a dent in the halo of gold emanating from the trunk, he laments the lack of understanding for good food today, how his co-workers would readily opt for a MacDonald’s over a bunch of his rainbow chard, beetroot or cabbage. The old arguments of chopping down rainforests, polluting the environment, exploiting workers, eating crap that is bad for you, all raise their insistent heads once more. We embrace all of this and reject homegrown veggies? For how much longer?
Crab Apple Jelly recipe:
4kg crab apples
Wash and pick through the apples, taking out any majorly bruised ones. Put them in a large pan and cover with water. Leave to boil slowly for about 30 minutes to an hour until the flesh is soft. Upturn a stool or a chair and attach a square of muslin with string to the legs. Pour the fruit into the muslin and let it drip through overnight (do not be tempted to push it through otherwise the jelly will be cloudy). The next morning, throw the pulp on the compost and measure the juice so that it is 10 parts juice to 7 parts sugar. Add lemon juice if desired and keep at a steady boil for about 40 minutes, skimming off any foam. To test if the jelly is ready – put a spoonful on a saucer, leave it to cool and if it sets, you are ready to go. Pour into sterilised jars and enjoy.