This is a beautiful jelly, both in appearance and taste. The flavours of fruit and herb come through clearly, and a gentle aroma too.
As a preserving addict, I knew I wanted to make some apple jelly with the kilo of cooking apples from our allotment tree. We also had a small handful of Cox' Orange Pippins left from the small tree we planted in the back garden last year. We'd enjoyed a few of these sweet, crisp, richly flavoured apples every night for some weeks after harvesting them, but the last few in the fruit bowl had started to wrinkle. To these we added 2 British apples from the supermarket, also past their best.
An interview with garden designer Robert Stoutsker, during a recent visit to London Syon Park hotel, resulted in his gifting me a generous bag of lemon verbena cuttings. A few of these Pete planted (and am pleased to see some of these growing successfully) but the rest I dried and stored in a bottle in my spice and herb rack.
I've been thinking of making mint jelly this way for the longest time, but the lemon verbena snuck in first.
Kavey's Apple & Lemon Verbena Jelly
Lemon verbena leaves
Note: You won't know how much sugar you need until you've cooked the apples down and strained the juice. For each litre of juice, you'll need approximately 750 grams of sugar, adjusting to taste and according to how sharp your apples are.
Note: As apples are naturally high in pectin, an apple jelly doesn't require any added pectin. If you adapt this recipe for other fruits you may need to add lemon juice or pectin to help achieve a set.
- Halve the smaller apples, chop the larger ones into quarters or eighths. You don't need to peel or core them, as the skin and pips contain lots of pectin, which will help your jelly to set.
- Place chopped apples into a large pan and add water to about two thirds of the way up the apples.
- Cook the apples on a medium heat until they disintegrate completely. Add more water if the mixture is looking dry and might catch.
- If some of the apples don't break down, give them a helping hand. I used a potato masher towards the end of cooking, as some of the apples were firmer than the rest.
- Pour the cooked pulp into a muslin straining bag or cloth. Either tie closed and hang over a pan or, as I did, place into a colander inside a pan, so that the juices can easily run down. I left mine to strain overnight, with a clean towel loosely covering everything.
- To avoid cloudy jelly, resist the urge to squeeze the pulp to extract extra liquid. *
- Discard the pulp (on your compost heap or into your green bin).
- At this stage, if you think your juice may be too thin and watery, boil to reduce volume. Mine was a fairly thick but easy pouring juice, similar in consistency to single cream.
- Measure the juice and put into a large pan, with caster sugar. Use 750 grams of sugar per litre of juice, adjusting for your volume of juice.
- Add lemon verbena leaves. If using fresh, add a small scattering of leaves and taste after the first few minutes of boiling, adding more if the flavour isn't coming through. I had previously dried my lemon verbena leaves, reducing their potency greatly, so ended up adding over 100 shrivelled leaves, in order to impart my desired level of flavour.
- Boil the juice and sugar hard. I use a jam thermometer to make sure I reach 104 °C (219 °F).
- Test for set. I put a plate into the freezer before I start cooking the jelly. When I reach the required temperature, I put a teaspoon of jelly onto the plate and pop it back into the freezer for 20 seconds. After I get it back out, I push my finger through it to see if it wrinkles. If so, the jelly is done. If not, I cook for longer.
- Pour your hot jelly through a strainer, to remove the lemon verbena leaves. I ladle mine into a heat-resistant Pyrex jug and then pour into hot sterilised jars. I sterilise my jars in the oven (and boil the lids at the same time, draining them onto a clean tea towel). Pouring the jelly into the jars while it and they are still hot minimises the risk of the glass cracking from a sudden and extreme change in temperature.
As apples are high in pectin, the jelly achieved a great set and is a beautiful colour, with tiny flecks of lemon verbena leaves suspended throughout.
I'm looking forward to enjoying this on breakfast toast, but as it has a lovely herby flavour, I may also try it as an alternative to mint jelly next time I have roast lamb.
* I hate waste, so once the cooked apple had finished dripping through the muslin, I set the clear juice aside and then pressed and squeezed the remaining pulp to release quite a bit more juice. This was much cloudier than the rest, so I used it to make a second batch of jelly in a smaller pan. To this one I added very hot chilli powder instead of lemon verbena. Although the single jar of chilli jelly is not as clear as the lemon verbena, it's perfectly attractive and tastes great.