Savoury jellies are great things to have in the store cupboard. They’re perfect with cheeses and cold or roast meats, but they’re also excellent as cooking ingredients in casseroles, marinades and stir-fries. The basic method for making jellies based on apples is venerable and traditional but it does allow plenty of scope for variations in flavour.
This is my approach to the traditional method and I’ve given options for my two favourite jellies: black pepper, cumin and fennel jelly and chilli jelly. There are plenty of other options that are worth trying, though; for instance, ginger is really useful and herb jellies such as rosemary and thyme can be used in many different ways.
Bramleys are probably the most common apple to use when making jellies, although any cooker will be fine. (For these jellies, I used Endsleigh Beauty, which is a lovely old variety from Devon). You can also use crab apples rather than cooking apples, but, obviously, you don’t need to chop them up as much. This may sound like a lot of apples but you’ll only get around 3 – 4 small (200 ml) jars of jelly at the end. On the other hand, the flavour should be so intense that those few jars will go a long way.
For each kilo of apples, you’ll need around 1 litre of liquid in the first stage of cooking. For these strongly flavoured jellies I use a half and half mix of cider vinegar and water. For more delicate jellies it’s often better to reduce the amount of vinegar or cut it out altogether. For sweet jellies, of course, just use water - although a little lemon juice is usually no bad thing.
Recently, I’ve seen a number of recipes that tell you to use jam sugar (sugar with added pectin) along with the apples. The suggestion seems to be that extra pectin will make the process easier. There’s plenty of pectin in apples already so I don’t think that using jam sugar does make it any easier. It also gives a firmer set which I think is much less pleasant and more difficult to melt quickly into sauces, marinades, gravies and the like.
For the first stage:
1 Kg cooking apples, roughly chopped – don’t remove the core, pips or skin
500 ml water
500 ml cider vinegar
1 tbsp black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 tbsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed
1 tbsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
6 (or so) red chillies, finely chopped (I’d leave the seeds in)
Place the apples in a preserving pan and pour over the liquid. Add the flavouring – either the chillies or the pepper mix. Bring the pan to the boil, put a lid on and simmer until the apples have completely fallen apart and you have a nice mushy mix. This will probably only take 15 or 20 minutes for most types of apple.
Put everything into a jelly bag (or construct a thick muslin bag) and leave it to drip into a container while you go and get a good night’s sleep or while you do something else for around 5 hours. As every book on jellies will tell you, NEVER force the pulp through the bag – the jelly will go cloudy if you do. (It'll taste fine, though, if you don't mind clouds).
For the second stage:
450g granulated sugar for every 550 ml of liquid that dripped through the jelly bag
1 tbsp black peppercorns, lightly crushed
½ tbsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed
½ tbsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
3 or 4 red chillies, finely chopped (without the seeds this time)
After the many hours of doing nothing, measure the amount of liquid that’s dripped through the bag and pour it back into the cleaned preserving pan. Add the appropriate amount of sugar (essentially it’s a pound of sugar for every pint of liquid, but I’m metric these days). Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mix to a boil, skim any unpleasant-looking scum from the top of the jelly and boil until it reaches setting point. The time this takes will vary but is usually somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.
You can check for a set with a jam thermometer or the old wrinkle test: chill a saucer in the freezer, put a small dollop of the jelly on the saucer, wait a moment or two and if the jelly wrinkles when you push it, then it’s ready. Personally, I think it’s better to err on the soft side for jellies if you’re in doubt.
As the jelly starts to cool, it will begin to thicken. At this point, stir in the final flavourings – either the chillies or the pepper and seed mix. The flavourings should remain suspended in the jelly; if they sink to the bottom, let the jelly cool a little more and stir again. Pour the jelly into sterilised jars and seal.
I eat these two jellies alongside a lot of different foods, but my absolute favourite combinations are probably chilli jelly with sausages (especially venison sausages) and the black pepper jelly with plain roasted duck.