When we moved in to our new house a few weeks ago we were beyond delighted to find that we had a plum tree and three mature apple trees in the garden, all bearing different types of apple. (Not the plum tree, obviously, that had plums on…) We were a little late for the plum harvest and most of those were on the ground being enjoyed by insects, but the apple trees were heaving.
Despite every best intention to enjoy the garden during the day, I find it hard to get out there with a small baby (and am always slightly alarmed by the sight of the algae-covered green pond as well) so last weekend I handed the baby over to my partner and spent an hour outside in the glorious late September sun, pulling as many apples off the trees as I could. I was doing a pretty shabby job with some barbecue tongs and dropping a good percentage of the apples into the pond, until I was handed a giant fishing net, which worked substantially better.
The end result was a lot of apples. I mean a lot. I love an apple, but there was no way we could eat this amount – probably 100 or so apples were pulled off the trees.
So, naturally, I decided to do my favourite thing with any large amount of fruit and veg and got to making some preserves.
First up: apple and sage jelly.
I hadn’t actually heard of apple and sage jelly until relatively recently. Out in Hong Kong on a six month sabbatical we met a friend of a friend who came from London but had been living in Asia for the past ten years. I asked him whether there was anything he missed about “home” and he said just one thing. Apple and sage jelly. He’d searched and searched, but never managed to find it anywhere in Hong Kong (and this is a city that is so Anglicised you can buy Waitrose own brand products in many of the supermarkets).
Well, I didn’t have much on at the time (I was meant to be writing a book, anyway, so any excuse to avoid the laptop for a while was welcome) and I really meant to make him some, but what with a kitchen smaller than a mouse’s sneeze and no jars or saucepans or, frankly, anything useful, I never quite got round to it.
Six months later, and nowhere near the poor man who was craving it, I thought it was time to have a go. I decided to use a standard savoury jelly recipe and just add in some chopped sage towards the end of cooking. This is what I did…
- A lot of apples. I used approximately a kg, but it doesn’t really matter how many you have as you can adjust the sugar levels later
- Sugar. Weight depends on the amount of apples you use
- 100ml cider vinegar
- One bunch of sage. I used some amazing purple sage I found from an organic farm shop. I realise that makes me sound a bit of a ponce. In my defence, it was the only sage I could find on the whole of my high street. It was expensive, admittedly, but it did turn the jelly a wonderful light purple colour
1. Chop up the apples into quarters, with their skins on and pips still in.
2. Put them in a saucepan with the vinegar.
3. Pour water into your pan, slowly, until it just covers the apples.
4. Bring to the boil and them simmer slowly for an hour, covered, until the apples are soft.
5. Tip the mixture into a jam straining bag or a muslin cloth and leave over a large bowl overnight. (At this point I discovered that only a part of my jam straining bag survived the move, so I put the bag inside a sieve and left it like that. I reckon the same thing would probably work if you just put some fairly open-weaved material inside too, if you haven’t got a jam bag.)
6. The next day (or a good few hours later, if you’re impatient like me), measure how much liquid you have. For every 600ml, add 400g of sugar.
7. Put it all back into a big saucepan, with the sage, chopped finely. (Or chunkily, if you prefer — just remember that whatever size you leave it is the size it will pretty much stay. It won’t make much difference to the flavour how you’ve chopped it, but it will depend how you want it to look.)
8. Boil the mixture quickly and then cook until it reaches setting point. There are a million different recommended ways to do this, but I tend to just put a spoon in, stir it round, take it out and see what the liquid looks like on the spoon. If it is a bit treacly, with a bit of viscosity in there, instead of just pure liquid, and if it takes a while to drip back down the spoon, it’s probably done. If that sounds alarmingly vague and inaccurate to you, then you could try a jam thermometer or putting a cold plate into the fridge and dripping a bit onto that and seeing if it goes wrinkly. I have to say, though, that neither of those methods seem to work terribly well for me and I always end up over-heating my jams if I follow those. But each to their own…
9. Pour into sterilised jars and put a lid on. I sterilise my jars by washing them with normal washing up liquid, then standing them in a roasting tray in the oven to dry at about 180 degrees. When you’re ready to use them, you just take out the roasting tray and pour the jelly into the jars. I always find the pouring bit outrageously messy, so this has the added advantage of containing the spillage as well.
10. Give the jars a little shake as they’re settling, just to ensure the sage bits are evenly distributed. I did this on one, but not the others, so, as you can see from the first photo in this post, some of my jars had all the sage bits at the top. It’s not the end of the world, of course, but it’s nicer when they’re spread throughout.
11. If you can bear to, leave for about a month before you open this to eat it. I couldn’t. It tastes delicious with more delicate meats, going particularly well, I’ve found, with pork.
If you want to see what else I did with my apples, or if you’re just in an especially appley mood and searching for more recipes, take a look at:
And let me know what you think. If you make this recipe, do leave me a comment below and tell me how it turns out. Or let me know what other ideas you’d have for a huge glut of apples…