Apple Cider Jelly — the easiest recipe in the world. With a catch.

My favorite jams and jellies book by Linda Ziedrich has a recipe for apple cider jelly — one that, on the surface, seems like the best/ easiest recipe for jelly in the world.

Instructions:

Take a gallon of cider.

Boil it.

Wait a while. 

I think I can get used to this.

Oh, but there’s a catch — you get either jelly or syrup. You never really know which until you wait a few days and it’s either gelled or it hasn’t. The more I thought about it, the more I started to think that this was not a gamble I wanted to take. Although I am sure a nice apple cider syrup would be good on pancakes, this was jelly time and I wanted to make jelly. Then I started researching other recipes for jelly made from fresh apple cider, and it turns out that the “just boil it” recipe usually involves a lot of straining and skimming and scraping — and you still might not get jelly in the end. Blast!

Once again, living in San Diego comes in handy. A short drive to Julian, home of the best apple cider in the world, and a friend got me a sweet gallon of unfiltered and unpasturized cider. It’s delicious just on its own out of a glass, but I thought instead of taking a risk on boiling the whole gallon and not knowing what the result will  be, I would use part of it for a delicious spiced honey apple butter. A few simple ingredients and it’s on.

A few apples, 2 cups of cider, a half cup each of honey and brown sugar, and a few teaspoons each of cinnamon and nutmeg. The recipe calls for boiling the mixture, then straining out the solid chunks of apple, then letting the rest simmer.

Personally, I prefer a few more chunks of fruit, especially in apple butter. I mashed them a little with a potato masher when they started to get soft, and later I also used my immersion blender to make the chunks a little smaller.

I also used a quart of the cider with some pectin and a cinnamon stick (according to my internet research, most people use Red Hots cinnamon candies, but I decided there was enough sugar with the 5 cups necessary to make the store-bough pectin react. A bit sweet for my taste, because I think the cider is delicious on its own without so much additional sugar, but delicious.

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Belinda’s Big Bag of Oranges

Nothing says summer like a giant bag of fresh oranges from a friend’s tree. I got four bags from my friend at this month’s San Diego Food Swap — as well as finishing salts, marinara sauce, meat sauce, BBQ sauce and homemade cookies. If you are local I would totally recommend coming, and if you are in another town you should definitely find a local swap or start one yourself (like I did).

Fresh-picked oranges.

 

There are a few ways to use these oranges  — given my past experiements with marmalade, I wanted something decidely sweet. I mentioned in an earlier post that Linda Ziedrich’s awesome jelly book has a recipe for orange jelly, with a twist — you have to use pectin from another recipe in the book. Essentially, you juice the oranges, save the juice, then scrape the membrane and pith out of the oranges to make into pectin.

I was mesmerized. A way to make delicious jams and jellies, without tons of sugar? Using the same oranges for the jelly as for the pectin? Awesome. I had no idea how much work it was for so little. After putting serious elbow grease into juicing TONS of oranges (I see now why it is recommended to use big, juicy Valencia oranges instead of tiny, tart Southern California ones), I had barely two cups of pith and a nice pitcher of fresh juice.

After letting the mixture set overnight and simmer briefly, you let it strain through a jelly bag.

Supplies

This is probably a great time to mention my jelly-making supplies. When I first started making my own jams, jellies, marmalades, preserves and whatnot, I didn’t have a canning kit, a jar-boiling rack, or really anything aside from a really good Swedish-made plastic oven mitt that can reach into boiling water and grab a jar. Over the last few months I have acquired a funnel that is Mason-jar sized (excellent for avoiding spills — you haven’t lived until you’ve splattered boiling fruit on yourself) and a jelly bag strainer set, with cloth bags and this contraption, that is supposedly supposed to fit on the sides of a bowl, but it doesn’t fit any bowl I own. I had to make do.

I also have a cheap, hand-twisty juicer that I bought at a drug store, but if you are going to do what I did, I recommend getting a nice automatic juicer. The dozens of oranges took forver to juice!

Back to the pectin. One cup of pectin, one cup of juice, a cup and a half of sugar. It says to skim the foam off the top as it’s boiling, but it didn’t provide details. Especially when the pot looks like this:

Eventually the mixture reached a gel point, which is usually when the jam is quickly ladled into hot, sterile jars and sealed — usually it’s already gelling or looks like it’s about to gel immediately. Well, not this stuff. Hours of slicing, juicing, scraping, setting, boiling, stirring, skimming and watching led to two jars — well, not quite. And I won’t know if it will really gel for the next two days. What a buzzkill.

Will update in two days with the results. Instead of being totally bitter about it (get it?), I am going to wait and see how good this jelly is (This had better be the best jelly ever!) and if it’s not awesome, I am going to try a little experiment and use the oranges the same way I used the lemons and limes for jelly previously. More to come …