A piece of sourdough toast, lightly coated with salted butter and generously scooped with homemade jam or jelly, is my weekday breakfast of champions. Apples and nut butter are dandy, oatmeal is fine, and smoothies and juices are great when I’m feeling healthy and motivated. (Egg-and-cheese sandwiches are reserved for special weekend indulgences, ’cause a girl needs something to look forward to as she reads the New York Times Magazine.) But as I’ve told you before, jam is my jam. And if that’s what’s going to get me through the cold months ahead, whether it be grape, sour cherry, cranberry, or the latest addition to my stash—apple cider jelly—then I’ll happily accept it as my vice.
I’ve reduced pure cider down to syrupy jelly before, adding it to a superb cider, maple, and cream tart a few Thanksgivings ago. But my yield from a whole gallon of cider was minimal—an 8 oz. jam jar for all my time and trouble (ok, it was no trouble at all; it simmered away on the stove one afternoon, filling my house with the most incredible fall scent that Yankee Candle wishes they could accurately replicate but can’t even touch).
Being the greedy cider glutton I am, I didn’t want to come away with only one jar of jelly this time around. That wouldn’t last me through the winter—heck, that wouldn’t even last me through November. And while I could fill my big-ass stockpot to the brim with cider and let it bubble away for a day, bringing the total yield up, I decided to cheat the cider gods instead.
Apples are crazy-high in pectin (in fact, you can use them to make your own pectin instead of buying commercial liquid brands), which is why the cider would set… eventually… into jelly if I kept letting it do its thing. But a package of low-sugar pectin, which was burning a hole in my pantry, became my secret weapon. Once the cider had reduced from 4 quarts of loose, sloshy juice into 1 quart of opaque liquid, I dumped that powder into the pot, whisking like a madwoman. In five minutes, the juice had thickened to the consistency of molasses, and I was all set (pun intended, obviously) to indulge in spoonfuls of tart jelly all winter.
My jars of apple cider jelly and I will be very happy and cozy together for the next few months, spending our mornings in a buttery, toasty haze and accompanied by our best friend coffee. We’ll see you in April for rhubarb season.
Apple Cider Jelly
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 3 hours
Makes 4 to 5 8-oz. jars
- 1 gallon fresh apple cider
- 1 1.75-oz. packet powdered Sure-Jell or Mrs. Wages low-sugar pectin, or 3 tablespoons Ball low-sugar pectin
- 1/2 to 1 cup granulated sugar (optional)
Pour the apple cider into a stockpot that holds at least 5 quarts of liquid. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then reduce the heat as necessary to keep the apple cider at a good simmer, bubbling happily and not sluggishly. After about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, the cider will have reduced to a little more than a quart, with about 5-6 cups of cider left in the pot.
(While the cider simmers and reduces, wash and rinse 4 8-oz. mason jars, rings, and fresh lids. Keep the jars and rings in a 200˚F oven until you’re ready to use them, and the lids in a pot of barely simmering water until then. If you’re water bath canning your jelly, you’ll probably want to get your canning pot ready and on for a boil now too.)
Whisk the pectin and sugar together in a small bowl, if using any sugar.
Transfer the cider to a smaller 2-quart saucepan, if desired, and whisk the pectin (and sugar) into the cider. Simmer the cider for 5 minutes more, letting the pectin activate and thicken the cider into a syrupy jelly.
Carefully fill the warm jars with jelly, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, and water bath can for 10 minutes at a rolling boil if desired. If you’re just making refrigerator jelly, seal the jars and leave them on a cooling rack until no longer hot to the touch. Transfer the jars to the refrigerator and allow to chill for 24 hours before using.
Water bath-canned jelly will keep, sealed, at room temperature for up to a year. Refrigerator jelly will keep, sealed, for up to 2 months in the refrigerator. Once jelly has been opened, store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.