Saturday, 7 September 2013

Rowan and crab apple jelly

Of all the edible wild fruits and berries, I should think the edibility of Rowan is most misunderstood.  Contrary to popular belief, they are, in fact, edible.  Saying this, you would be a fool to go about consuming raw Rowan berries, as they are extremely bitter! The only raw use of them I have come across is in Roger Phillips’ Wild Food book, where he suggests squeezing the berries and adding the juice to gin in place of Angostura Bitters. I haven’t yet tried this so cannot comment, I'll have to give it a go.

The Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) has two interchangeable vernacular names in the UK, the other being Mountain Ash. Some books use one, others use the other, get it?  Despite being called Mountain Ash, it is in fact of no relation to the Ash (Fraxinus) genus, though the leaf structure does bear superficial similarity, so you can see how the name came about – see below.

Ash-like leaf structure of the Rowan

I’ll be awarding no gold stars to those who can guess what environment the Mountain Ash tends to grow in. Though, saying this, you need not trek up your nearest mountain to find the Rowan; I have one growing about 10m from front door in a built-up suburban area and have found more Rowan trees than I could count on my fingers and toes (put together!) when out cycling down my local country lanes. Perhaps it should be renamed the Not-So-Mountainous-Ash?

Anyway, on to the jelly.

Rowan tree in full fruit

This recipe is a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall one, though I scaled down the quantities as I had less rowan berries than the recipe suggested. The riper the Rowan berries, the better your jelly is going to taste, so do wait until they have turned a deep red, see picture below. The Crab Apples, however, do not need to be fully ripe (though the jelly will taste better if they are), as it is their pectin content that is needed in this recipe in order to set the jelly – the less ripe, the higher the pectin content. Alternatively you could replace the Crab Apples altogether with a pectin sugar.  

Good vs. bad

You’ll need:

- 1kg Rowan berries
- 1kg Crab Apples
- 1.5kg sugar

I only had 800g of Rowan berries and Crab Apples, so scaled down the sugar and used 1.2kg instead.

 Bramleys, Crab Apples and Rowans - Bramleys were for a hedgerow crumble

Remove the berries from the stalks and wash them well. Peel and roughly chop the crab apples, but leave in the cores - they contribute lots of pectin.
Put all the fruit into a large pan, along with enough water [(at least 500ml) - this is for the H F-W recipe using 1kg of apple/ berries - scale accordingly] to come about halfway up the fruit. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally and crushing the fruit against the side of the pan, until the whole mass is soft and pulpy. 


Tip the mixture into a jelly bag (or a large sieve lined with a cotton cloth) suspended over a bowl, and leave to drain. If you want a clear jelly, just let the liquid drip through, but if you want to get the maximum yield and don't mind if your jelly is a little cloudy, squeeze the pulp to extract every last drop of juice.
Measure the juice, then transfer it to a clean pan and add 750g sugar for every litre of juice. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly, skimming off any scum that might rise to the surface, until you reach setting point - you can measure this with a sugar thermometer: it's 106C. Alternatively, after about 10 minutes of hard boiling, take the pan off the heat and drop a teaspoon of the jelly on to a cold saucer, put this in the fridge for a couple of minutes, then push your finger through the jelly. If the surface wrinkles, your jelly is ready. If not, boil for five minutes longer, then repeat the test. As soon as setting point is reached, remove the pan from the heat and pour the jelly into warm, sterilised jars. Cover with a disc of waxed paper, then a lid. Leave for a few weeks to mature before eating. The jelly should keep for up to a year.

After squeezing through a jelly cloth

I havent yet tried the jelly, as the recipe recommended a two week interval before tasting, but i'll let you know how it turned out! 

Use as you would a redcurrant jelly - with game and lamb.

*Update: this jelly does indeed taste better when left for a few weeks to mature. Although it has slightly bitter aftertaste, it is great with cooked meats. 

VoilĂ !

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