Apple Jelly and a Nebulous Sense of Home

Our suburb is near Chicago, less than a 20 minute drive without traffic, but it has the feel of a small town, with many families who have lived here for generations. It’s the kind of place that beckons people home after college, and many of my kids’ friends were high school sweethearts, right here at our local high school. I’m not sure if this is a Midwestern thing, or particular to River Forest, but as a kid who lived in six different homes in three different countries before leaving for boarding school, it never fails to amaze me.

Walking to school in the leaves

My concept of home is more nebulous. It has to be.

I have no family home to return to, no childhood bedroom to visit. But I still feel the pull of home, particularly strong in the fall, when the leaves start crunching under my feet. The vivid colors, the crispness in the air, everything reminds of me France and calls me home. Walking home from school with Juju and Sophie, I close my eyes and breathe deep, flooding myself with memories of my own walks home from l’Ecole Bleue, stuffing my pockets with thorny chestnuts, and walking in to the smell of my mother apple jelly bubbling on the stove.

gelee de pommesMy family is spread across the world. My sisters are in California. My mother is in France. My dad is in Canada. And my in-laws are in New Jersey. Being with family takes effort and planning, and too often the pull of routine lets too much time slip by without reuniting.

Picking blackberries at my mom's house.
Picking blackberries at my mom’s house.

So in a few weeks I’m taking most of the kids, jumping on a plane and going home. It won’t be the home of my childhood, but it will be near. Together we’ll walk in the woods, split thorny chestnuts to reveal the shiny brown skin inside, and eat as many baguettes and croissants as we can during a long weekend. We could wait until we have more time for a longer stay, but I don’t want to ignore the pull of home. The trip will be quick and more than a little insane, but it will be home and family, or as close to home as we can get.

When flying to visit my mother is impossible, I recreate home with the smell of apple jelly, bubbling softly on the stove. Here’s my recipe, a runny, homemade jelly that tastes as sweet as childhood memories.

Apple Jelly and a Nebulous Sense of Home
  • 4½ pounds of quartered apples – use a variety but make sure they are all sweet
  • 2 lemons
  • 8 cups of water
  • 5 cups of sugar
  1. Cut your apples into quarters.
  2. Throw them in a large stock pot. Squeeze the juice of the lemons on top. Cover with water and boil for an hour.
  3. Cover a sieve with cheesecloth. Place the sieve over a large bowl. Put the cooked apples in a sieve in two batches and squeeze gently to collect the juices. Repeat for the second batch. You should have about 7 cups of liquid. You can now discard the apples.
  4. Place the liquid back in the stockpot. Add the sugar and bring to a boil.
  5. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, until the jelly is thickened and darkened.
  6. Meanwhile, in a separate large stockpot, boil your canning jars.
  7. When your jelly is ready (if it has reached 220 degrees fahrenheit or gels when a small drop is put on a chilled plate), remove the jars from the boiling water carefully with tongs. Pour the jelly in using a canning funnel, leaving a half an inch of space at the top. Screw on the lids.
  8. Place each jar back into the boiling water for 10 minutes to process the jars.
  9. Remove them again and place them inverted on the counter until completely cooled to complete the sterilization process.
  10. Sometimes this jelly is not set the morning after I can. I find that if I leave it in a dark closet for a few days, it will set more. There is no pectin added to the natural pectin in apple seeds, and some varieties are lower in pectin. I actually like this jam to be runny, and truly homemade.
  11. As they cool, you’ll hear a delightful pop as the jar lids seal completely. They’ll stay tightly sealed until you open them, hearing the same pop again. These jars will keep a year in a cool, dark place. The jelly is delicious both on toast and chicken or pork chops!

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