The windows in Edward’s recently vacated room, I love. A wide central pane of glass sits above a deep ledge of dark wood, flanked on either side by large, long windows that push outward with a satisfying whoomp. Fresh air consequently flows through the often stale front half of the house. Reading MFK Fisher’s Gastronomical Me at the desk beneath it, recalling the ‘short but violently active cannings’ that punctuated her childhood summers, I realise that it is mid-way through March and I’ve done nothing about the fruit trees. The crabapple is heaving. Soft rain distracts me long enough to lose my place and push the book away in order to enjoy a rare, quiet patter. The music the damp magpies make, singing joyfully across the street, is a rare sort of lovely itself.
13th of March
The crabapples really do need dealing with. Maggie Beer is, naturally, a crabapple champion providing a whole three recipes yet they barely rate even a mention in Grigson’s much-lauded Fruit Book. This surprises me a great deal, though, on second thought, I’m not surprised one bit. Strangely, I find both Grigson classics unusable. Day-Lewis offers a jelly introduced in her typically poetic way which seals the jelly-making deal. ‘A sprig of lemon peel at the summit of each jar is a kind of elegant closure’. Suddenly I wish the lemons hadn’t been starved of juice by whatever insect infected her branches before we arrived. I start a mental list, fantasizing about an orchard of quinces, orange trees and the vicious but stunning Meyer lemon from our last place. Crabapples join that list now and I wonder what a medlar tastes like. Think I want one of those for my imaginary orchard, too.
Proper rain. Puddles and pools and grey sky as far as the eye can see. Undeterred, I don a waterproof jacket, roll up my pants and shove a hat on my head to pick 1 ½ kilos of crabapples quick as a flash. As Shula wisely counseled, anything less than jelly is a waste. Ganga’s version adds pomegranate and rosebuds to the mix and, in their absence, I decide to sub in pomegranate molasses and rosewater. It will smell delicious.
Sunday. A good sleep means I’m up early, baking bread. Actually, it was the promise of a bowl of pink juice to play with that stirred me. And pink it is; the palest shade of barely-there. Measuring, stirring, skimming. A useful way to spend a wet weekend. An hour later, ladling amber-coloured liquid through a funnel into sparklingly clean jars, I try not to think about just how much sugar was used. Tasting is the only answer to this dilemma.
It is delicious.
Your quantity of fruit may be small or huge, so giving a precise quantity of fruit matters little. Your haul will be what it will be. You will need quite a lot of sugar though, so bear that in mind and shop accordingly. When you see a line of jars glowing prettily, all will be worth it, I promise. Give some away, I say. No need to be greedy.
Wash the fruit well and drain. Discard any leaves, but keep the stalks on if you like. Bruises and windfalls should not be thrown out, though any bug-eaten fruit should. Put into a large saucepan or stock pot and pour over enough water to just cover. Bring to a boil and simmer slowly until the fruit is softened to a pulp. Cool before straining the juice through a muslin-lined sieve (or two) which you suspend over a large bowl (or two). Leave to drip, drip, drip overnight and do not, under any circumstance, be tempted to force or squeeze the fruit through. Slow and steady will set you right.
Next day measure the juice you’ve collected. For every 600ml (1 pint) you will need 450g (1 lb) of sugar, 1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses and another of rosewater. Mix together and bring to a good boil. Skim off the grey-ish foam that rises to the rolling surface. Place a saucer in the freezer for set-testing. After 10 minutes, take a teaspoon of the mixture and place it on the cold saucer. Pop it back into the freezer for a couple of minutes. If the liquid wrinkles when you gently push it, the jelly is set. If not, keep going and checking until it does.
Sterilise your jars and their lids while all of this is happening.
When ready, ladle through a funnel into the prepped jars and seal immediately.