Christmas morning of 1917 was a time of excitement for Johnny Welles and his three older siblings. In addition to celebrating the special day, a secret was brewing behind the scenes that would add to the festive holiday season and bring joy to the entire family. In a passage leading up to the discovery of this secret, I wrote a portion for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, that included the special treat of apple jelly on pound cake served for Christmas breakfast. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when writing the above-mentioned scene.
Collie’s Apple Jelly
3 lbs. tart apples (¼ underripe and ¾ ripe)
3 c water
2 T lemon juice, strained
3 c white sugar
This recipe doesn’t require an outside source of pectin because it uses tart apples which are higher in pectin. Also, the slightly underripe apples further ensure a natural source of pectin.
Sort and wash the apples. Remove the stems and blossom ends. Do not pare or core the apples. Cut them into small pieces. Add the water, cover, and bring to a boil on high heat. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the apple pieces are soft. Do not over boil or you’ll destroy the pectin, flavor, and color in the fruit.
Dampen a jelly bag and suspend over a clean bowl. Ladle the cooked apples and liquid into the jelly bag and allow the juices to drip through on their own. Pressing out the juice will result in cloudy jelly. If a fruit press is used, pass the juice through a jelly bag to reduce cloudiness.
Pour the apple juice into a flat-bottomed pot. Add the lemon juice and sugar. Stir thoroughly. Boil the mixture over high heat to eight degrees above the boiling point of water (this temperature depends on where you live in regards to sea level) or until the jelly sheets from a spoon. Remove the jelly from the heat and quickly skim off the foam.
Immediately pour the jelly into hot, sterile jars. Be sure to leave ¼ inch headspace. Wipe the rims with a clean, damp paper towel. Fit a canning lid into a ring and place on the jars of jelly. Take care to level and tighten them properly. Process the jars in a water bath canner. The time required will depend on the altitude at which you live:
0 – 1000 ft. for five minutes
1001 – 6000 ft. for 10 minutes
Above 6000 ft. for 15 minutes
Remove the processed jars using canning tongs. Allow the jars to cool on several layers of towels. During this time, you’ll hear the lids pop indicating successful canning. You can remove the rings for reuse once the lids pop and the jars cool. Any lid that does not pop has not sealed properly. These jars should be cooled and refrigerated for immediate use. This recipe yields about four to five half-pint jars of golden sweet deliciousness.
Now it’s time for the confession portion of this post. Thinking like a modern woman, I had Collie making the apple jelly a few days before she served it for Christmas. In my world, one would simply go to the store for apples or pull them from the refrigerator where they waited patiently to be eaten or made into something delicious. Refrigerators for home use weren’t invented until 1913, and I seriously doubt the Welles family would have had one by 1917. They could have had a cellar, but I never mentioned this in the description of the house, and to do so for the sake of one scene would feel contrived.
Apples will last for six to eight weeks with refrigeration, but left on a counter, they will ripen ten times faster because enzymes are much more active at room temperature, and they will only last for a week or two. More likely, Collie would have made the jelly during the months when apples were in season. So while I made a small culinary mistake in my novel, fortunately I discovered it prior to publication. As I’ve always said, the research begins with the author. It will be easy to edit this scene by having Collie say she held back one jar to use on Christmas morning.