Grama’s Rosemary and Garlic Crab Apple Jelly

Image of apple treeWe have a small tree on the edge of our driveway, half buried in an overgrown laurel hedge. We barely noticed it until one year it started raining little green apples.

It turned out to be a sort of crab apple, or perhaps more correctly, a domesticated variety that had reverted to its wild state. Maybe someone dropped an apple core there many years ago.

The fruits are small and quite sour so I used them to make this jelly, which arrived in Suffolk from the United States via Northern Ireland.

I should explain. It began, from my point of view, with a Twitter conversation about jams and jellies with Erick from @picturebelfast. But the recipe, which he kindly shared, may go back much further. It comes from his grandmother, who he calls Grama, a lady called Carol Golden who lives in farming country in upstate New York. It is written on a small card kept in a tin bin where she stores recipes passed down through the family, from her own grandmother through to the current generation.

“She is the daughter of a dairy farmer,” Erick told me. “She’s known for being a grandma to everyone. She has cookie parties and canning parties for all the generations of kids to pass down her knowledge in a fun way.” If that makes her sound like a character from Little House on the Prairie, you should know she went to university after her kids were grown up and earned a master’s degree in early childhood education.

Grama adds, I’m told, a lot more garlic than is listed below so I don’t think she’ll mind if I say feel free to adapt it to your own tastes. Her family traditionally eats it with goose but it’s also excellent with lamb and pork. Recent guests at our house devoured an entire jar at one sitting.

The original quantities, given here with metric equivalents, are large so if you have fewer apples, reduce the amount of onions, vinegar, rosemary and garlic in ratio or to taste.

Grama's Rosemary and Garlic Crab Apple Jelly

  • Servings: makes 6-8 small to medium jars
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Image of jelly spooned from jar


4 US quarts (about 2.25 kg) of crab apples

3 large onions

3/4 US cup (180 ml) white vinegar; I used white wine vinegar but cider vinegar would be good too

Handful of fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 tbsp finely chopped garlic (or more, to taste)

Sugar, equal to liquid after straining (see method)

Image of a basket of crab apples


Remove the stems, flower ends and any blemishes from the crab apples. Cut in half and add to a stock pot. Mine were bigger than normal so I chopped them roughly.

Peel the onions, chop into large chunks and mix into the crab apples. Add water to the level of fruit. Bring to a boil and simmer until apples are soft, about 30-45 minutes. Mash gently just to break open the apples “but not so much,” says Grama, as “to make mush”.

Image of the simmered apples and onions

Strain in a jelly bag overnight without pressing the juice through, or your jelly will be cloudy. Measure the resulting liquid and pour it into a clean pot. Add the vinegar.

For every ml of liquid measured, weigh out the same in grams of sugar (or if using US measurements, a cup for a cup). Add it to the pan, with the chopped rosemary and garlic. Bring it up to heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring to the boil and bubble until the jelly reaches setting point, 105C with a jam thermometer or when a spoonful placed on a chilled saucer wrinkles after a few minutes when you push it with your finger. Ladle into sterilised jars and seal.

For safety’s sake, Grama’s instructions are to cook until the jelly begins to sheet/set then heat the filled and sealed jars in a water bath for 15 minutes, but I didn’t and my original batch kept for 12 months without a problem … the choice is yours.

Image of filled jars

10 thoughts on “Grama’s Rosemary and Garlic Crab Apple Jelly

  1. Love this, Linda! I’ve been eyeing crab apples at the farmers market and wondering where I could find a good recipe to follow. I should have just asked you. I think there will be a jar of crab apple jelly in my Christmas gift baskets this year. Thanks, Linda.

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