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Somewhere Down in Japan

Learn about Japan by Making Apple Jelly

This post will show you how to make simple and delicious apple jelly. First of all, you definitely need some apples. The apple has a long history as a cultivated fruit in the world, and it was in the 10th century that the plant first appeared in Japanese literature. The species of apple in Japan at that time was Malus asiatica, which is now commonly called "Chinese Apple" in English. Malus pumila or Malus domestica, the species that covers most varieties of apples eaten today, was introduced to Japan in the mid-19th century. As it is recorded that the first-timers ate it by spreading it on mochi (a kind of rice cake), they must have tasted it in the form of jam or jelly. There is a tremendous sense of history in this recipe, don't you think?

1. Let's use Fuji apples this time (Figure A). Fuji is the world's most abundunt variety of apples, but that's not the reason I selected it. It's just that my grandmother sent me much more Fuji apples than my family could ever eat. If your grandmother is not a kind of person who would send you apples, I suggest you buy some McIntosh or Kogyoku apples, which are smaller and more sour than Fuji. Fuji is actually a little too sweet to be cooked into jelly though it is very nice for eating raw.

2. Core and slice apples using an apple cutter (Figure B), but do not peel them. As we do not add any additional thickening agent in this recipe, we need the pectin contained in the apples to make it like jelly. Pectin is a complex carbohydrate, which is a major component of the cell wall of plants. The peel, pith and seeds have lots of pectin. Therefore, the cores should not be thrown away either. Stuff them into empty tea bags (Figure C) and put them into a pan together with the sliced unpeeled apples (Figure D).

By the way, I don't know why, but apple cutters suffer a little indignity in Japan. If you search carefully, imported ones are available and there are ones made in Japan, too. But to all appearance, they are not penetrated well into the Japanese market. When my wife found the one in the photo and bought it at an IKEA store, she went like, "This is what I've been looking for over the years since I came to this country! I thought I'd never find it in Japan..." (Come to think of IKEA, there are always so many non-Japanese people in IKEA stores. My wife is definitely one of them. Almost all the kitchen tools in the photos above are from IKEA.) But I digress. Let's go back to the recipe.

3. Pour the same weight of water as of apples and boil (Figure E). A Fuji apple weighs approximately a little over 300 g (10.5 oz), and I used three apples this time. So the amount of water should be around 1L (2.2 pints). The boiling time should usually be over 3 hours, but you can shorten it to 30 or 45 minutes if you use a pressure pan. Boil until the apples become like well-stewed onions (Figure F).

4. Strain the liquid through a sieve (Figure G). You can use a cheese cloth for straining, but a fine sieve is usually good enough. However, do not press or squeeze the apples unless you want to make murky jelly. Leave it untouched until all the liquid is strained. You will get some clear light brown liquid (Figure H).

5. Add sugar. The weight of the sugar should be less than half of that of the apples. In this case, do not add more than 500 g (1.1 lb). I used brown "sanonto" sugar (三温糖) (Figure I). By doing so, the jelly will have a nice burgundy color. But please keep in mind that sanonto is not actually the same as the "brown sugar." The brown color of sanonto is due to caramelization. On the other hand, what is normally called "brown sugar" in English contains molasses in it and that contributes to the brown color. The brown sugar is more like "kurozato (黒砂糖)" in Japan.

Also, for your information, "normal white sugar" in Japan is quite different from that in most other countries. In many countries in the world, normal white sugar is granulated sugar. But that is not the case in Japan. While granulated sugar is practically pure sucrose, the "normal white sugar" most commonly used in Japan contains significant amount of glucose and fructose (inverted sugar syrup). This "normal white sugar" is called "johakuto (上白糖)." Johakuto is a little sweeter than granulated sugar, but has less calories. If you are from outside of Japan and want to get some normal white sugar at a supermarket in Japan, don't grab "砂糖." Pick up the one labeled clearly as "グラニュー糖" and that's the normal white sugar for you.

6. Squeeze juice out of half a lemon (Figure J). The acidity of the lemon juice promotes setting of the pectin. Then boil the liquid down until it has reduced by half (Figure K). You may feel it is not thick enough yet, but it will eventually set as it cools down.

7. Pour the liquid into heat-resistant containers. I used tumblers without any heat resistance in the photo (Figure L), but please do not follow it. It's dangerous. If you mind air bubbles, remove them using a toothpick while the liquid is hot and fluent.

8. Cool them down in the refrigerator, and you'll have apple jelly! (Figure M)

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