Rowan and Apple Jelly Recipe
Rowan jelly in the UK is a traditional condiment served with robust flavoured meats such as strong tasting wild game like venison or even roast beef. Pure rowan jelly can have a fairly harsh, bitter taste, so for this reason, the rowans are often combined with another fruit to combat this effect. Apples are probably the most common fruit used for this purpose. While many recipes will use similar quantities of rowan berries to apples (by weight), this recipe provides a happy medium, using a certain quantity of apples to lighten the taste but not enough to counter the distinctive tangy rowan taste altogether.
The European rowan tree (sometimes called a mountain ash) can be found in profusion around Great Britain and the northern countries of Europe. It blooms beautifully in the spring as evidenced by the photo above, while the same tree photographed several months later (below) shows the bright red berries which are available for harvesting from late summer and in to early autumn.
The rowan is a tree associated with a number of superstitions and beliefs. The two most popular in the UK are probably the ones that suggest a rowan tree in your front garden wards off witches and that a healthy crop of rowan berries on the trees signifies a cold, harsh winter ahead.
Picking and Preparing Rowan Berries for Making Jelly
It is often touted that rowan berries should not be picked until after the first frost, by which time they will taste less bitter. The danger here is that the birds will get them before you do. Alternatively, it is suggested the picked berries be frozen for a couple of days prior to being used. These suggestions can be considered but are not absolutely essential. The berries here were picked when ripe and used the same day.
There is no absolute right or wrong way to pick rowan berries from the tree. You may find it easiest however to pick them in small bunches, still on the stalks. This is certainly the quickest method.
Begin by adding the berries - still on their stalks and in batches if necessary - to a large colander. Wash under running cold water. This gets rid of any spider's web or other insect deposits. The good news is that because the berries are so firm/hard, they are subsequently very easy to essentially rub free in to a separate bowl, discarding the empty stalks.
When you have de-stalked the rowan berries, they should be next be weighed. This recipe uses five parts rowan berries to three parts chopped apples. You should then core and chop apples until you have the required amount by weight. There is no need to peel the apples.
It is important to know that rowan berries should never be eaten raw as this can prove hazardous to your health. They can cause potential digestive and liver problems. They must always be properly cooked in some way before being consumed.
How to Make Rowan and Apple Jelly (Stage 1)
Every effort has been made on this page to provide cooking and preparation times which are as accurate as possible. The reality is, however, when making jams or jellies, these times can vary considerably. For this reason, the instructions contain precise details of what signs to look for at various stages of the preparation and it is these signs which determine when each stage is complete.
- 2 1/2 pounds rowan berries
- 1 1/2 pounds cored and chopped Bramley apples
- Juice of one lemon
- Cold water as is required
- Put the rowan berries, chopped apples and lemon juice in to a large soup or stock pot.
- Use a jug to pour in cold water until the berries and apples are just covered and no more.
- Put the pot on a high heat and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for about half an hour until the berries have largely lost their colour. Turn off the heat, cover and leave for about an hour to partially cool.
How to Strain the Stewed Rowan Berries and Apples
The traditional way to strain the stewed berries is through a jelly bag looped over a broom handle and suspended over the back of two chairs. A large bucket or basin is placed underneath to catch and contain the escaping drips of liquid. The assembly is left like this overnight.
When, however, space may be at a premium and this is not a practical exercise, improvisation may be necessary. In this instance, the jelly and apple mix was poured in to a muslin bag which was in turn tied securely round a stool with twine. The structure was built on a spare part of kitchen counter top.
How to Make Rowan and Apple Jelly (Stage 2)
The quantitative rule of thumb at this stage of the recipe is to use one pound of sugar per pint of liquid. Do note, however, that this rule applies to a British imperial pint, which is equal to 20 fluid ounces or 1 1/4 US pints.
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 1 hour
Ready in: 1 hour 10 min
Yields: 6 jars of rowan jelly
- 3 (British imperial) pints of strained rowan and apple juice (equals 3¾ US pints)
- 3 pounds white sugar
- You can give the muslin or jelly bag a good, final squeeze to coax out the last little bit of liquid.
- Be sure to measure out the liquid with a measuring jug as you pour it in to your large soup or stock pot. You then need to weigh out the required quantity of sugar using the scale detailed above and add it also to the pot.
- Put the pot on a high heat, stirring occasionally, and bring to a simmer.
- Close to hand, you will need a clean plate and a dessert spoon. The idea is that the jelly is ready when a spoonful of the liquid "sets" when it has been laid on the plate to cool. This quantity of mixture took a couple of minutes short of an hour to reach that stage but you want to start testing after half an hour and every ten minutes thereafter.
- As the liquid simmers, you may see whitish impurities rising to the top. These should be carefully skimmed off and discarded. That was required to be done three times on this occasion.
- Your jars for the jelly should already have been washed and dried. An easy way to sterilise them and heat them in preparation for the jelly is to sit them in a bin marie and place them in to a cold oven. Bring the oven heat slowly up to 110C/250F.
- When the jelly is ready to be added to the jars, ladle it carefully in to a heatproof jug for pouring. Fill each jar nearly to the top. Cover the jars with a clean tea towel and leave to cool.
- Only when they are completely cold should the lids be added to the jars. The jelly can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to a few months but should be stored in the fridge and used within about a week when the jar is opened.
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© 2013 Gordon Hamilton