The trees are heaving with apples right now, driving down any country road you’ll almost certainly see them being offered for free or for a small donation outside people’s houses. I have a reliable apple supplier, a good friend of mine with a large tree in her garden, who will keep me in pectin rich Bramley apples so long as I pay her with a jar of anything I make. In my own garden I am lucky enough to have a mulberry tree. A rare and sought after traditional English fruit. I didn’t know what it was for the first two years we lived here, I ‘d never seen a mulberry before, to my knowledge. Once I’d become curious enough to do a bit of internet research I haven’t looked back. The tree produces far too much fruit to deal with and most of it ends up littering the front garden. I mainly use it for jams and jellies, teamed up with brambly apples, but they can be thrown in pies or crumbles and generally treated much like blackberries, once each berry is hulled to remove the troublesome stalk.*
With these fruits in abundance, I make a jelly of some sort every year. It is a brilliant store cupboard ingredient and its so much more versatile than first impressions suggest. Although a jelly can be used exactly like a sweet jam and spread on toast or a crumpet, it can also be used to accompany a savoury ploughmans style meal, with cheese, mushroom pate, or smoked tofu on oatcakes. Most often though, I use it as a seasoning. It has quickly become an essential to finish off a gravy, sauce or stew. It balances any bitter or sourness from tomatoes perfectly and because it is a pectin based jelly, it will help add a glossy shine to your dish.
This particular recipe is for a mulberry and apple jelly, but I have used the exact same method for making a blackberry and apple jelly, a rose hip and apple jelly and a very similar method for a rosemary and apple jelly. The running theme is the Great British Bramley apple, used to add tartness and pectin for taste and a good set. The great thing about all of these versions is that virtually all the main ingredients are foraged from the Norfolk hedgerows or free from my good friends garden. This is in keeping with the true spirit of preserving, taking what nature provides in abundance and turning it into something wonderful to see you through the darker months… usually very cheaply! So I just pay for the sugar and the lemons and we’re good to go.
A word about sugar. It’s not good. At all. And this recipe calls for a very large quantity of it. It all really depends how you want to used the finished product. Many of my jars of jams and jellies go to family and friends as gifts, and the ones we keep are used sparingly as a seasoning or an occasional sweet treat. I know that recent evidence shows increasingly that sugar has no place in a healthy diet, but I can’t help but think that our great jam making ancestors over the past hundred years and before had no such obesity and health problems related to sugar. Sugar was expensive, and used to preserve valuable fruit. The resulting preserves were a treat and used with care and attention. I believe that as long as we have a certain respect for how we use sugar and a realistic idea of how much we are consuming, a blob of jelly in your gravy is not going to cause too many problems. On a similar note, many jams and jellies will call for the use of white refined sugar to produce clearer jelly. I pefer to use the unrefined golden variety, I have not yet successfully made a preserve with another natural sugar such as honey or coconut sugar… the recipe would be very expensive and if the research is correct, the ‘sugar effect’ is much the same on the body. Granulated sugar is traditional and it works.
This recipe makes about 2kg of Jelly, or about 10 small jars.
2kg of mulberries (or blackberries or rose hips… or possibly gooseberries or elderberries – foraged!)
2kg of bramley apples (£3.70 at the supermarket – but I’m sure you can find them for free!)
2 lemons (£1)
8 whole cloves (optional)
water (see recipe for quantities)
approx 2kg of golden granulated sugar. (£3.40)
You will also need a whole bunch of preserving equipment, A large preserving pan, a colander, 2 muslin squares (or a jelly bag), a ladle, a jam funnel, a jug, 12 glass jars with lids… and a whole lot of other basic cooking utensils. Most of this is pretty standard kit and is well worth getting hold of if you fancy making preserves regularly.
Using a large preserving pan, warm the berries over a medium heat, cut the apples into quarters, discarding any bruised parts and add to the pan (skin, core and all).
Pour enough water into the pan to cover half the fruit. Add the peeled rind and juice of two lemons and the 8 cloves.
Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the fruit is soft and pulpy then take it off the heat. To extract as much juice from the fruit as possible, press it with a potato masher.
Now for the slightly tricky bit, prepare a sieve or colander over another large pan, lined with 2 layers of muslin. Begin by spooning the fruit pulp into the muslin and then carefully tie the opposite corners of the muslin over a stick to let it hang overnight. I use a broom handle propped over 2 chairs, and I pour the last bits of fruit pulp into my hanging muslin with a jug and a ladle. It’s really worth doing this because you get a larger quantity of juice than just straining it using a muslin lined colander, the weight of the hanging fruit pushes more liquid through into the pan. Once you’ve managed that, and washed up the huge preserving pan, you can rest easy for the night and come back to it all in the morning.
The next day, discard the fruit pulp, onto the compost heap, and measure out the beautiful glossy translucent liquid into your large preserving pan again. For every 500ml of liquid you will need to add 500g of sugar.
You will also need to prepare your jars, put around 12 clean jars on a baking tray into an oven at 140 degrees C. The clean lids can be put into a pan to be scolded with boiling water while the finished jelly is being jarred up.
Once the sugar is added, heat the mixture gently until it has dissolved and then bring the mixture to a rapid boil. Boil for at least 15 minutes before testing for a set. To do this, keep two or more small plates in the fridge, or even better the freezer. Take out a plate and dribble a small amount of the juice onto it. Put it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes to cool and then push the cooled juice with your finger, if the surface wrinkles and has formed a gel like consistency, then you have reached setting point. Don’t worry if this doesn’t seem to happen for a long time, it can take half an hour or longer of hard boiling to reach a setting point. Just test the jam every 5-10 minutes or so on one of the cold plates. Maybe have a book to hand in the kitchen while this is going on so that you don’t get too bored, or have a little dance to the radio.
Once you have reached setting point, take the pan off the heat and, with a spoon, skim off the scum which will have formed on top.
Boil a kettle and use the water to cover the jar lids and scold the ladle and jam funnel. Remove the jars from the oven and ladle the mixture into the jars carefully, filling each to the neck.
Screw the lids on tightly and leave to set in a cool dry place.
This recipe does seem long with a lot of detail, but really this is a very simple recipe as the fruit needs very little preparation and the end result is quite luxurious. There are no difficult or laborious processes her, just a little bit of organisation; indeed, most of the hard work is done overnight while you’re either out enjoying yourself, or getting a good night’s sleep. This makes quite a large batch of jelly, but I always think, if you’re going to go to all that effort, you might as well make it worth it.
If you can find all your fruit in the local hedgerows and gardens of people you know, then the whole recipe only comes to £4.40, which is about 44p per jar of jelly. A very beautiful and frugal gift to anyone this autumn.
* That’s the beauty of using my mulberry harvest to make jelly, they can be washed and slung in the freezer, stalks and all, and I just have to wait for the apples to start falling. No fussy prep, no hulling, no purple hands.