In her preserving guide--which has been my go-to resource these past few months--Sherri Brooks Vinton has this to say about apple jelly:
"If you've never made jelly before, this a great place to start. Because apples are naturally high in pectin, the gel sets really nicely."
With nothing else to can (yet) and wanting to practice the boiling-water method, I took these words to heart and purchased 4 pounds of apples from Breezy Hill Orchards. Last Saturday, I laid everything out exactly as Sherri illustrates in her book: cans and lids, tongs, paper towels, a funnel, etc, etc. I made my own canner with a stockpot and circular metal cooling rack. I boiled the water and brought the jars to a high level of heat, ensuring that they wouldn't crack when I put the hot jelly into them.
I was prepared. I like to be prepared. When I cook, I lay all of my items out and prep all of the ingredients before even thinking about cooking. When I shop, I like to have a thorough list and idea of exactly where I'm going and how many bags I need to take--winging it doesn't tend to be my thing.
Our preparations were for naught: the first round of jelly didn't gel. This particular apple jelly recipe doesn't share how long it takes to reach gel point. As 30 minutes passed and nothing had happened, I frantically searched online to see how long this was supposed to take. I found nothing. It seemed like we should simply 'know' when gel point had occurred. And no one, either online or in my cookbooks, indicated how long this might take. So 45 minutes in, with a candy thermometer hovering NEAR 220, we thought, well, it'll probably gel upon canning. ERR…wrong. We canned apple syrup. Perfect for pancakes--but no reason to can it.
Honestly, I didn't feel too upset about the mishap. Like I said, I wanted as much canning practice as possible and this was a great first try. On Sunday, I bought more apples (this time from Migliorelli), simmered the apples and let them drain overnight, and started Round 2 on Monday. I was determined not to can until the gel point had been reached…that candy thermometer was going to reach 220, dammit, even if it took 5 hours. (Again, I had found NOTHING online about how long this might take. Recognizing the multiple variables--burner strength, humidity in the room, amount of sugar, type of pot--I guess this makes sense.)
Using both my candy thermometer and a meat thermometer as backup, I waited and waited. The apple jelly didn't reach gel point until 1 full hour into boiling. This left me with plenty of time to continue clicking around the internet and taking unappreciated pictures of my cat. Once the thermometer indicated 220, I double-checked by dropping a dollop of the gel on a cold plate and sticking it in the freezer for a minute. I then pushed on it and it wrinkled up (hence why this is called the wrinkle test).
Despite starting with 4 pounds of apples for both rounds, there was remarkably less to can for Round Two--the liquid became gel. It makes sense. I preserved one large Bell jar from of this recipe, that we'll save for later. I also refrigerated a small can's worth for last week's breakfast. The jelly is pretty to look at as it's nearly translucent. It's also silky, sugary, and with a a slight aroma of apple to it. This isn't a jelly that will overwhelm anything you serve it with--it's a willing wallflower--but a tasty one.
Try this for yourself, but please have patience with the gel time!!
Recipe Adapted from Put 'Em Up!
Makes 4 cups
4 lbs of apple
3.5-4 cups of water
2 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1) Wash & stem the apples, but leave on the peel and core. Roughly chop them and put them in a large stockpot. Cover the apples with just enough water, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender (25-30 minutes).
2) Pour the mixture into a colander lined with damp cheesecloth and let drain the refrigerator overnight. Be careful to not squeeze the bag!
3) The next day, measure 1 quart (4 cups) of the apple juice. Put the juice in the saucepan over high heat. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a full boil that you can't stir down. Continue to boil until you reach gel stage. (*This can take 45 minutes to an hour. Use your candy thermometer and don't remove until 220 is reached. Try the wrinkle test if you're unsure!)
4) Ladle into jars and then refrigerate. If canning, use the boiling-water method.