Friday, September 11, 2015

Apple Jelly

by Sheila Connolly

When I first started writing the Orchard Mysteries, I decided I should get some experience with what I was writing about—growing apples—so I toured a number of commercial orchards, talked to a lot of people (including the director of the experimental orchard at UMass Amherst), and planted my own tiny orchard. That was in 2007.

Meet Nathan, the Northern Spy

My first tree was a Northern Spy (which I call Nathan Hale, now and then), that I found in western Massachusetts, where the books are set. Probably not the best choice for a beginning, because they are slow to mature and produce apples, and the fruit doesn’t usually ripen until November. But Nathan has survived fairly well and has put out a decent crop this year. So have most of the other trees—even the Esopus Spitzenburg, a variety that was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite. It’s not very happy with our climate at the moment, and has a serious case of fire blight, but it does have apples.

Having a very small orchard (a total of eight trees), I worry about each and every apple, and when one drops too early it breaks my heart. So I started casting about for something to do with very unripe tiny apples—I couldn’t let them go to waste. (And I have no pigs or goats to feed them to.)

I went hunting online and came upon the world’s simplest recipe for apple jelly. Actually unripe apples are great for this—they have lots of natural pectin, but plenty of flavor. The recipe has all of four ingredients: apples, water, a bit of lemon juice, and sugar. You don’t even have to peel or core the apples—just chop them up and away you go.

You don’t need a fancy canning set-up, although I was thrilled that I finally got to use my vintage canning funnel (see? I knew it would be useful someday!). I didn’t jump through hoops to sterilize all my jars (recycled from other jellies), but I’m planning to keep the jelly in the fridge anyway. If you make jelly and want to give it to friends as gifts, you might want to be a little more careful, unless you’re a big fan of mold.

You do, however, need a candy thermometer, because the exact temperature at which you cook your jelly is important.

Green Apple Jelly
4 lbs green (unripe) apples 
Four pounds of apples
3 cups water
1/2 cup lemon juice

Do not peel or core the fruit, just wash and cut it into pieces. Seeds and skin contain most pectin so they should be cooked along with the pulp. This will make a firm jelly.

Cover the fruit with the water and add more if needed. Add the lemon juice and boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and mash. 

Strain the fruit through a large strainer lined with two layers of clean cheesecloth. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RUSH THE JUICE BY SQUEEZING THE BAG OR MASHING THE FRUIT DOWN. THIS WILL MAKE THE JELLY CLOUDY. Be patient! Let the fruit stand in the strainer 4 to 6 hours or overnight if you have the space available. 

The following morning, measure the juice. Add sugar, in the ratio of 1 cup sugar to 1 cup juice. Boil until a candy thermometer reads 220 degrees F.

Note: Your pan must be big enough so jelly can raise up in a rolling boil. This is a boil that cannot be stirred down. Jelly must boil at a rolling boil until it reaches the 220 degree stage or it will not set. It kind of wants to stop at 218 degrees for a while, but you have to wait. You can see when it starts to thicken.

Now this is boiling!

Turn off the heat and skim off any froth. Fill and cap the jars.

And now stand back and admire your results! And think of all those farm women who spent days canning and preserving their crops in the heat of summer, so they could eat over the winter. For your information, that four pounds of apples, covered with water, produced four cups of apple liquid, which after boiling it down, yielded five eight-ounce jars of jelly. Imagine what making enough to last the winter would require!

What do you do with apple jelly? The usual—put it on toast or muffins. It’s also good for glazing pie crusts—under the fruit so the crust doesn’t get soggy quite so fast, and over the fruit to give your open-faced pie a nice finish. You’ll find something!

A Gala Event is only weeks from release! (And don't ask me what the apples are doing in the snow--I don't design the covers.)

There's a wedding! And alpacas! (Yes, they are in the book.) 

You can preorder it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


  1. Thank you for the recipe for the apple jelly. The cover for A Gala Event is very pretty (though I was wondering about the snow cover apples).

  2. This is very cool Sheila! I wish we had room for fruit trees. One neighbor a few blocks over has a peach tree that was so loaded this year they had to prop it up with a two by four.:)

    Is your orchard organic?

    1. It is. I fertilize once in the winter, before anything starts happening with the trees, and the only thing I spray for is Winter Moth, a relatively new pest around here which can strip a tree of leaves in record time. I use a natural agent called Spinosad, at the recommendation of my husband, who works in biological control. Luckily I don't have too many pests. The fire blight I mentioned is a problem, at least for that one tree--it's viral and it moves fast. I was told when I recently toured an organic orchard that some sort of copper spray in the early spring can help.

  3. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
    When it gives you early apples, make apple jelly!

    Perhaps the apples are there on the cover for the alpacas to eat.

  4. A fascinating post, Sheila. I have new respect for apple jelly. And it answered a question I had. On a jar of preserves that I bought, one ingredient was "fruit pectin" and I wondered what that was. I think I now know! Thanks!

  5. You can make your pectin from the apple skins.....and store it, after a hot water bath canning..for future use....and, the pulp you had left over would make great pomaders....I use the pulp left from applesauce....are'nt those half pints in your pics?

  6. Would love to know how to go from mushy pulp to pomanders--dry it somehow?

    Yes, those are either 6 or 8 ounce containers (which I saved from other jellies). It's amazing how four pounds of apples can produce so little. But I've got a lot of apples coming--maybe I need more jars.

  7. You should be in my kitchen now..we just picked 3 bushels of fall apples....!!!! And will be picking and picking..for the next few days....Since we had early apples...I already have my jellies and sauces and it will be slices and cider!!!
    PLEASE come take some apples!!!!
    Get your spices out....great for using old spices too....
    To 4 c of drained pulp( you don't need it too wet), mix in a heaping T of ground nutmeg, 2 t ground ginger and 3 T of ground orris root. Mix well.
    (I use a tray lined with parchment paper)- Next,shape into balls, and roll in a mixture of: 6 T ground orris root, 1/2 c each of cinnamon and ground cloves.
    Lay the balls on the parchment paper and sprinkle the reminder of spices over all.
    Turn once or twice a day til dry- usually 2 weeks. Makes about 50, 2" balls.
    I re-wrap them in clean parchment and a box and store til I am ready to gift...then I cut squares of fabric, wrap each in it, tie with a can use these in drawers, hang from hangers in the closet..I use them all over the the linens, etc....smells great- keeps bugs at bay during the winter....then I recycle them in the compost heap the next year and make fresh.

    1. Wow! I'll have to try it, with my next batch of...whatever. Apple butter, most likely. First I'll have to find orris root (what? I don't have any?). And I love that you think I have a place I can leave these to dry for, oh, a couple of weeks. I'll have to confer with the cats on that. They'd have a great time batting these around.

  8. The good thing is they are not poisonous to animals....I buy Orris Root from Frontier Herb can buy it in bulk...I get some every few years, as I use it for these and also when I make rose water, lavender water, orange water(from the mock orange bush). If the cats don't go on top of the fridge, you could leave them there...or on top of a mantle..I did this for years, when there was a nosy little toddler around!!