My grandparents had a crabapple tree in their back yard and I used to love to climb it when I was little. It was small like me and the branches were low enough to grab easily but not high enough to frighten my mother. I especially liked climbing it in the fall when I could shake some of the little hard crabapples loose so they’d rain down on my little sister, dutifully watching from below. But the fruit itself was disappointing. They were too sour and dry to be good eating and my sister always cried when I pretended to be a World War II fighter pilot dropping crabapple bombs on her.
Grandma used to make jelly from those too-tart crabapples and I imagined it must have taken some sort of magic. My parents frowned on sugar and sweets so we only really got to have it when we visited my grandparents. But I loved it. I especially loved its spicy-sweet tang with peanut butter on Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread – something else my parents frowned upon.
I stumbled upon these beauties at the local Farmers’ Market and instantly knew what I had to do. I had to make crabapple jelly.
I love making jams and marmalades, but I’ve always been a bit wary of jelly. It takes either luck or years of experience to get just the right proportion of sugar and acid and pectin to achieve a good, soft spreadable jelly. I don’t have the experience, for sure, and luck has never behaved much like a lady for me – more like a mean old drag queen throwing shade. And this time was no exception.
My first pass resulted in a perfectly tart and spicy and gorgeously orange-pink syrup. It would have been lovely in yogurt or as a glaze for fresh fruit tarts. But it certainly wasn’t jelly. So I dumped all of the jars back into the pot and tried again with an extra bit of sugar and another shot of pectin. The result is still mighty pretty to look at, though darker, and tasty too. But it’s a bit more like gelee than jelly. And some of the subtle spiciness is gone. Though it still makes a darn good PB&J.