Festive apple jellies

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These festive apple preserves are as delicious as they are versatile, and make a superb edible Christmas gift. Alternatively, you could use these for your own festive feasting – they work brilliantly with a range of cheeses, cold cuts, or even Christmas dinner itself.

First published in 2015

It’s always lovely to give a homemade gift at Christmas, and preserves have several advantages. They keep for ages, so don’t have to be eaten immediately at a time when, let’s face it, we all have far too much food in our houses anyway. They can be made in bulk and kept on hand to give to visitors or take to dinner parties, without the rush to prepare a last-minute present. They can be decorated with pretty ribbons and labels to make them something truly special and you can experiment with interesting flavours for unique and special gifts. Finally, they can be very economical, and none so much as these apple-based jellies, which have become something of an obsession of mine since acquiring Diana Henry’s wonderful preserving book, Salt Sugar Smoke. They use cooking apples, simmered until soft (no need to peel or even core the apples, so preparation time is minimal, which is exactly what you need at this time of year), and then you can add your own interesting and creative flavours to the apple base as it simmers into a delicious jelly.

Apple jellies always look beautiful, with their golden, russet glow, and I particularly like these two versions, with crimson flecks of chilli and slender rosemary needles suspended in the jelly. They’re fabulous with cured or roast meats and cheeses (the chilli one certainly has a kick to it!), so a very useful thing to have on standby over Christmas. If you want to make both flavours, simply divide the mixture between two pans once you have dissolved the sugar, adding the chill flakes to one and the rosemary to the other. Or experiment with other flavours – any herbs or spices work well, particularly thyme, sage, star anise and cinnamon.




Apple jelly base

Chili jelly

Rosemary jelly


The day before serving, roughly chop the cooking apples (you don’t need to peel or core them). Put them in a large preserving pan with the water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for around 30–45 minutes, until the apples are soft enough to crush against the side of the pan with a spoon
Line a large measuring jug or bowl with a jelly bag, then pour the apple mixture into the bag. Suspend the bag over the bowl and leave it to drip overnight (I tie mine onto a broom handle or similar and rest it between two chairs over the bowl)
The next day, measure the amount of juice and pour it into a preserving pan. For every 600ml of juice, add 450g granulated sugar
Bring the juice and sugar to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it has dissolved, add the lemon juice. If making the chilli jelly, add the chilli flakes at this stage. If making the rosemary jelly, add the rosemary sprigs
Put a small plate in the freezer (to test for a set later)
Simmer the jelly over a high heat, skimming off any scum that forms, for around 30–45 minutes or until it has reduced and become syrupy and golden
Preheat an oven to 120°C/gas mark 1/2
Meanwhile, sterilise your jam jars either by running the jars and lids through the dishwasher, or by washing them in hot soapy water and then putting the jars upside down in an oven for 30 minutes, and the lids in the same oven, upside down, for 5 minutes. Keep warm in the oven/dishwasher until the jelly is ready to pot
Test for a set by spooning a little of the jelly onto the cold plate from the freezer and leaving for a minute. If it separates and wrinkles when you push your finger through it, leaving a clear line, it’s ready
When it’s set, turn off the heat and leave the jelly for 10 minutes before ladling into the sterilised jars. You can remove any big pieces of rosemary from the rosemary jelly, but leave small needles – they look nice in the jar. Cover with wax discs and seal with the lids. Leave to cool before labelling
First published in 2015

Elly McCausland is a food writer based in Yorkshire. She is a keen gardener and loves cooking with home-grown produce.

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