September 17, 2014

Civil War Era Crab Apple Jelly Recipe

“I enjoy doing housework, ironing, washing, cooking, dishwashing. Whenever I get one of those questionnaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It's an admirable profession, why apologize for it. You aren't stupid because you're a housewife. When you're stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.”
― Tasha Tudor

From the top I can smell the tart apples and the wind brings the sweet smell of  honeysuckle. I was lucky enough to get to visit the farm on the most beautiful fall day. I finished helping clean up after the weekend's Civil War event, and couldn't help but take advantage of the ripe crab apples.

All of the animals were out, including the farmer's matching, black Corgis. The crab apple trees towered. I struggled to find a few branches that I could reach with the ladder. I could hear the dull thumps of the apples I was accidentally knocking to the ground and the birds tweeted around me. On the whole, the day was perfect for picking and reminded me of the pickings that happened when I first started working at the farm. 

When Pehr Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish naturalist, visited Pennsylvania in the 1750s, he remarked that crab apples were plentiful but were not good for anything but making vinegar. Crab apples have a reputation of being a useless fruit and a nuisance. As Pehr Kalm suggested, I had actually intended to make vinegar out of my collection.

Once the tweeting birds were replaced with squawking crows, too close for comfort, I decided I had enough to make a small container of vinegar and one of preserves of some kind. I took the collection home and rinsed it in a few washes. I was still unsure of what kind of preserve I wanted to make. I was stuck between making marmalade and jelly. I ended up making jelly because more people would enjoy it. 

The Challenge: "In a Jam (Or Jelly or Preserve) September 7 - September 20
It’s harvest time in the northern hemisphere, and springtime in the southern hemisphere. Make something either to preserve that produce that you’re harvesting, or replenish your supply after the winter! Fruit and vegetable jams, jellies, and preserves are the focus!"

The Recipe:

The Date/Year and Region:
1860 New York, United States

How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation)


-Crab apples


Wash your crab apples. (Mine were cherry size so I didn't bother removing the stems or chopping the apples.) Place into stew pot and fill the pot with water until the crab apples are just covered. Bring to a boil and cover your pot then simmer about 30 minutes. The crab apples should have burst. Remove from the heat and carefully mash the crab apples with a spoon or masher. Once mashed, strain using a sieve or cheesecloth. Measure the juice. For every cup of juice add 1 cup sugar. Boil for about 30 minutes, or until the jelly sets.   Strain into final containers.

Add water and boil.
Burst Crab Apple
Mash and Strain.
I strained twice.
Boil the Juice and Sugar
Strain into Containers

Time to Complete:
Picking crab apples: 1 hour. Cooking: 1 hour. 

Total Cost: $0.60

How Successful Was It?:
It smelled like October and tasted like honey. I would make this again just for the baked-apple smell. I've never really been a jelly maker because I haven't started canning. This actually might make me try and get the materials. Homemade jelly really is a ton cheaper than store bought and is easy to make. Get out there and collect those crab apples! :)

 How Accurate Is It?: 

Followed the recipe exactly. Used modern sugar.


Kalm, Pehr, and Johann Reinhold Forster. Travels into North America. The 2nd ed. London: Printed for T. Lowndes, 1772.

Putnam, Elizabeth H. Mrs. Putnam's Receipt Book; and Young Housekeeper's Assistant. New York: Phinney, Blakeman & Mason, 1860.


  1. Ooo that looks tasty! And do I love the quote!


  2. Yum! I honestly thought there was more to it than that. Great pictures!!


Tell me what you think!

Copyright © 2008-2020 Stephanie Ann Farra. All rights reserved.

All materials posted on this site are subject to copyrights owned by Stephanie Ann Farra. Any reproduction, retransmissions, or republication of all or part of any document found on this site is expressly prohibited, unless the author has explicitly granted its prior written consent to so reproduce, retransmit, or republish the material. All other rights reserved.