Apple & Anise Jelly [Recipe]
There is something incredibly autumnal about the smell of cooking apples. The sweet, caramel smell is as comforting as the blanket you might throw over your knees now that the evenings are getting a little chilly. It is a smell that immediately transports me back to my youth, when stealing apples from an orchard near our house was an autumn tradition. We had plenty of apple trees at home, but somehow the stolen apples were far more enticing.
Both my mother and my paternal grandmother were fantastic jam makers. My mam made mostly either blackberry or blackberry and apple jam. I was never that fond of anything that contained blackberries, perhaps because of the forced servitude that came with acquiring them. Every September we would be dragged out, kicking and screaming, to search the ditches (hedgerows) on the lanes around our house for blackberries. We would arrive home with buckets of berries and well scratched arms and hand our loot over to our mother, who was patiently waiting with a large saucepan, several pounds of sugar and an array of jars, collected over the course of the year and meticulously scrubbed clean for their second life as a jam pot.
My mother’s jams were very tasty but the blackberry seeds invariably got stuck in my teeth, which left me making funny faces for the rest of the evening as I tried to suck them out. The blackberry and apple combo was a little better but it was my grandmother’s apple jelly that was my absolute favourite. I’m not why it was my favourite – the fact that it was smooth and completely seed free, that it didn’t involve long hours of scrambling through briars to attain the fruit or just the tangy, toffee-like taste of the jelly. The texture was also a mystery to me – I couldn’t understand how it didn’t have any bits of apple in it. My own mam didn’t make jellies and so I wasn’t familiar with the process. And unlike our blackberry jam, which seemed to take up half the shelf space in our pantry, the apple jelly was illusive. My grandmother made it in small batches and we only got one or two jars each year. It was a precious commodity.
Shortly after we arrived back in Lithuania last autumn I discovered an enormous apple tree in the garden, heavy with ripe, juicy apples. As part of our journey into self-sufficiency I was determined that not a single apple would be wasted and so I set about making apple jelly. I made lot after lot trying to use every apple, tweaking and perfecting my recipe as I went. I added star anise for a warm, spicy note and a squeeze of lemon for added tang. Needless to say I didn’t get through all the apples, but by the end of the season I had a store cupboard full of jelly and a fantastic new recipe up my sleeve.
I shared a few jars with friends and neighbours and the jelly was an instant hit. One friend reckoned it had medicinal properties and would dissolve a teaspoon into her morning tea. I’ve tried this and can confirm it is delicious – it adds just a hint of sweetness and a lovely aromatic hit from the star anise. It also works brilliantly in stir-fries or served with a rich meat such as roast duck. And of course it’s perfect served in the traditional way, on a warm slice of soda bread.
- This is a low yield jelly – although you are using 6 kg of apples you only get about 1.4 litres of jelly. (The number of jars depends on the size of the jar – I get about 4 of the jars shown.)
- I use a medium sweet red apple for this recipe, which gives the final jelly a deep red colour. You can also use green apples which will result in a yellow/green jelly.
- Windfall apples are ideal for this recipe as apples only fall from the tree when they are perfectly ripe. If picking from the tree select only fully ripe apples or you make not get sufficient juice and the final jelly may be overly sour.
- 6 kg of apples will not fit in a typical domestic saucepan. However, they should just fit into two large stew or stockpot size saucepans. You can, of course, make smaller quantities but given that I have lots of apples and that the yields per kilo are so low I always try to make as much as I can in one go.
- This much apple won’t fit in a standard jelly bag. I use a clean white pillowcase instead of a jelly bag. I wash the pillowcase at 90° C / 195° F without any powder at the start of jam season and rinse well in the machine at 40° C / 105° F (again, without powder) between batches. After adding the cooked apple I tie the neck of the pillowcase to a broom handle with string and set the broom handle across two chairs with a bucket under the pillowcase to collect the juice.
- The recipe is completed over two days. However, the steps are very straightforward and the actual effort required is low. The most difficult part will be sourcing a jelly bag / pillowcase and a means to hang it up. Once you have that sorted it will be the easiest jam you ever made.
- I have made this recipe about 10 times this year and no two batches look exactly the same – the colour can vary depending on the colour and juiciness of the apples. Bizarrely, I have found that the more water I use the deeper the colour of the jelly – I always use the same quantity of sugar, so the larger volume of liquid needs to boil down, intensifying in both colour and flavour, before it sets.
Makes about 1.4 litres | 3 pints. (The number of jars will depend on the capacity of your jars)
6 kg | 13 lbs apples
3 litres | 6 pints cold water
12 star anise
1 kg | 2 lbs, 3 oz sugar
- Wash and quarter the apples. There is no need to peel or core – just cut off any big bruises or worms.
- Put all the apples in a large saucepan and add the water. If using two saucepans divide both the apples and water evenly. The water won’t cover the apples but that’s ok.
- Cover the saucepan and bring the water to the boil, then simmer until the apples are soft and starting to break down – around 45-50 mins. (It doesn’t matter if you overdo this a little – too soft is better than too hard.)
- Allow the apple to cool in the saucepan for about an hour or it will be too hot to handle.
- Transfer the apples and liquid to a jelly bag / pillowcase. Tie the bag to a pole and allow the juice to drip into the bucket overnight. Do not squeeze the bag or you will end up with cloudy jelly. You should end up with about 3-4 litres (6-8 pints) of thick, gloopy juice.
- Pour the juice into a large saucepan and set over a high heat.
- To sterilise the lemon rind and remove any wax, dip the whole, uncut lemon into a mug of boiling water for 30 seconds.
- Peel the outer rind off the lemon in wide strips using a potato peeler. (Be sure to take only the yellow rind and not the bitter white pith beneath.) Slice each piece of peel lengthwise into very thin strips.
- Add the lemon peel, the juice of the lemon and the star anise to the apple juice and bring to the boil.
- When just boiling, add the sugar to the saucepan and stir until it is completely dissolved.
- Reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture reaches setting point – about 40-50 minutes. Test by spooning a small amount of liquid onto a cold plate (I chill one in the fridge) and leaving for about 3 minutes. If the drop on the plate forms a skin and wrinkles when pushed with your finger it is ready.
- Carefully pour the mixture into sterilised jars, ensuring the lemon peel and star anise are fairly evenly distributed across the jars. Close the lids immediately so that the heat seals the jars, ensuring your jelly keeps for longer.
- The jelly is ready to eat once it’s cool. However, the flavours of the anise and lemon do intensify over time. I’m still eating last year’s batch and the flavour is just amazing.