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.


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.

The beauty of chutneys

I’ve always enjoyed chutneys and tapenades, especially the more savory ones.  Especially now that I am getting more into smoking meat and all the new things I can do with my M7P, I am trying to branch out into chutneys and sauces (see the last post, where I made a Christmas plum chutney and smoky plum BBQ sauce). There are a lot more chutney recipes I want to try, and I am also looking forward to experimenting with some new ideas using what’s in season.

But onions are always in season, and since chutneys are good when you make them but get better as they age (in a sealed container), I thought a good carmelized onion chutney was the way to go. I chose some nice, big, sweet onions, and I didn’t have some items so I did some swapping — cumin for coriander and apple cider vinegar/ white vinegar for the malt vinegar.

 (Although next time I make this I will be sure to have some malt vinegar on hand; I am sure it adds a very good flavor to the chutney.)

The whole recipe is deliciously fragrant, and very easy to adapt using what you have on hand. If you try this recipe I think it would also be good to add some jalapeno or maybe a smoky chipotle pepper to the pot for a little kick. Much like other chutney recipes, this is heavy on the vinegar so the longer it is allowed to ferment in that jar; the better it will taste. But right now, I have to say, it tastes wicked good on some smoked chicken.

Plum Crazy, Part I — I still have all these oranges

I am lucky enough to live in San Diego, and to have a lot of friends with fruit trees. Really, most things grow well around here if you try hard enough, but even a tree that is neglected most of the year can yield some great fruit. Most of them yield more fruit than any one person knows what the heck to do with, but that’s a perfect time to experiment!

Fresh from the tree!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I now own a really cool smoker that has already proven its worth in smoking garlic, jalapenos, pork tenderloin, chicken, sausage and steak. I’m also a sucker for a good sauce. My first idea is for a smoky plum barbeque sauce, building on what I recently learned about smoking garlic. I’m also leaning towards something that isn’t jam — I’d hate to become predictable — and I found an amazingly good-looking recipe for a Christmasy plum chutney. I learned that chutney is best if you seal it and then let it sit for a few months, so this is a perfect summer recipe to be holiday gifts later. 

The first bag of plums had been picked a couple of days before, and were given to me late last night. It became clear that these would have to be made into something immediately, and that most were fully ripe, if not borderline mushy.  This calls for a liquor emergency! Brandy and large mason jars, stat!

And, let’s face it, I still have a ton of oranges from another friend’s tree. I sliced about 5 oranges, peel and all, and removed the peel totally from another 8 or 9 oranges. This jam will need to have a little bitter flavor to offset the plum and spices. I prepped the oranges (i.e., sliced them, covered them in water) and let them sit overnight.

The next day … the oranges have been sitting at room temperature for 24 hours. I open up this huge bag of gorgeous plums. Ok, first things first. I have to triage the plums into the too-far-gone for use (to the garbage bag — sorry fellas); the cutting board to have pits and blemishes removed, then the good parts scrapped for jam; and the ready mason jars for the intact and pretty ones.

First, for the brandied plums. Equal parts brandy and sugar (I started with 4 cups each and that was only enough for two large jars), and only fill the jars about halfway with plums so they all can freely move around in there. That was easy … and these will be EXCELLENT in a couple of months!

The syrup is equal parts sugar and brandy.

Next, the jam. I prepared these oranges the same way I did in the citrus jelly post, so that I won’t have to add a tonnage of extra (and unneeded) sugar or storebought pectin. After bringing the oranges to a boil and letting them simmer for about 45 minutes, I strained the liquid through a jelly bag, and used the liquid – equal parts liquid to sugar. Then I added it to a pot of already-softening chunks of plum, fresh orange slices, and cinnamon. It doesn’t look like much, but it makes the house smell like Christmas. 🙂

Check back for the next post! With the next sack of plums I get, I plan to make chutney and barbeque sauce.

Belinda’s Big Bag of Oranges, Part II, or How I Should Trust the Damn Recipe

OK, I was wrong. I was testy after getting carpal tunnel on my arms from all the oranges I had to juice and scrape and peel and boil … and I was disappointed that all of that work only yielded a jar and an almost-full jar. However, the jelly itself turned out great. After only 24 hours (the recipe said to wait 2 days for the jelly to fully gel), the jelly is firm enough to cut (although a little loose, see photo) and it’s very tasty.

Keeping its shape!

I still plan to use the same procedure with the rest of these food swap oranges that I did with the lemons and limes in the previous post — slicing them, peels and all, covering them in water, and letting them soak overnight, then boiling and straining them, and at the very end, adding the sugar. I am very interested to see how the taste, texture and procedure are different. Stay tuned.