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It’s 5 C today. It’s been going below zero overnight. Our garden is finished for the year, the last of the plants harvested or left to die (you should see how sad frozen tomato plants look). We’re getting ready for winter, which, for me at least, involves mostly mental time. I have to remind myself that winter’s coming (as if, with this weather, it would be easy to forget), and make my plans. Mostly this is a good thing. I think of books I’ll read, TV shows Carlo and I will watch when it’s too cold to get outside and walk, and of winter stews. I will admit, though, the retreat of summer is always a little bitter. No more garden tomatoes! No more bare legs! No more grass!
Something we’ve done this year to lessen the blow is preserves. Since I was a little girl, my mom has canned in the fall. I remember canned peaches and pears, but most of all, applesauce. Do you know what applesauce tastes like? No, really, what real applesauce tastes like? Because what you can buy off the supermarket shelf, that’s not applesauce. It’s a pale, tasteless, gag-inducing interloper. Real applesauce is peachy-pale, tart and tasty. It’s a perfect preserve to keep in a winter pantry arsenal. And I’ve got my own applesauce arsenal this year! I’ve never done it before, but this year I joined my mom in the kitchen, and we took advantage of a neighbour’s unwanted wealth of crabapples.
Crabapples are beautiful little fruits, just a bit bigger than cherries and nearly the same colour, a dark, dusky, purple-tinged red. But you have to process them to enjoy them. These are definitely not eating apples–they’re super-tart, not to mention too tiny to offer any real apple satisfaction. So we processed. And processed… and processed. There were a lot of apples. We made applesauce, we made jelly, we made liqueur, we made sorbet. And there are still two or three litres of crabapple juice sitting in the freezer waiting for my next idea.
Crabapples are a pain to work with because of their size, but their deeply-coloured skin makes for a gorgeous final product, and I love their distinctive tart flavour. Here are a few recipes, none super-precise, as we were winging it in the kitchen.
This is a beautiful pink sauce (see picture below). If you’re making a small amount, feel free to just transfer finished sauce to a jar and into the fridge. If you have a load of crabapples to dispose off, try canning them–crabs are super-acidic, so they take well to canning. When you’ve cooked your apples, save any juice that may have accumulated in the bottom of the pot–it’s perfect for jelly!
Crabapples, washed and stemmed
Sugar (to taste, but I found a 2:1 apple to sugar ratio was good)
A touch of water
After you’ve washed and stemmed your crabs, put them in a large pot on the stovetop with a splash of water in the bottom (just to prevent sticking). Cook over medium heat until apples are very soft and beginning to disintegrate (about 30 to 45 minutes or longer, depending on how big your pot of apples is). When apples are soft, process them in a food mill to remove skins and seeds. Reserve the clear juices at the bottom of the pot for jelly. When you’ve processed the apples, you’ll have a smooth, pink, and very tart sauce. Add sugar to taste, beginning with about 1/3 as much sugar as you have sauce (eg. 1 1/2 cups sauce=1/2 cup sugar). Taste and continue adding sugar until you’re satisfied with the flavour. Transfer to a jar for the fridge, or put sauce into sterilized jars and can in a boiling water bath.
I think because there is so much skin compared to flesh in crabapple, their juices are very high in natural pectin and thus is super-welcoming for jelly making. I love this jelly on pancakes, but I feel like it would be good with chicken too.
Leftover crabapple juice from sauce-making OR crabapple juice extracted with a juicer
An equal amount of sugar
Combine juice and sugar, and bring them to boil on the stovetop. Make sure the sugar is totally dissolved, then continue simmering for 10 minutes. You’ll have a thick syrup. Pour this syrup into sterilized jars for canning, or just throw it into the fridge. When the mixture cools it will set, so don’t worry if it doesn’t seem thick enough for jelly. It’ll happen.
This is so easy–it requires no real skill but patience. I added a couple sprigs of thyme to my vodka-crabapple mix, just to try it out.
Crabapples, cleaned, stemmed, and halved
Sugar syrup (combine sugar and water in equal amounts, and bring them to a boil. Allow sugar to dissolve, then remove from heat)
Gin or Vodka
Fill half-litre jars with crabs (almost up to their necks), then add 1/3 cup of sugar syrup per jar. Add liquor to cover, then put on lids. Agitate gently to combine liquor and sugar. Put jars in a cool, dark place for a few months. Go ahead and shake them up occasionally. If you do this now, it’ll probably taste good by Christmas.