Can Jam: Apple Cider Jelly with Rosemary & Peppercorn

I should have left well enough alone. After the glorious triumph of my Can Jam Lemon Lavender Marmalade, I should have known to just quit while I was ahead.  Sadly, I so rarely take my own sage advice.

There’s a reason why I never make jelly.  Jelly is basically juice + sugar.  Since there is no fruit pulp to round out the texture, a jelly really needs more sugar than a jam, or whole fruit preserve, in order to have any structure.  There also needs to be a significant amount of pectin in order for the juice + sugar to gel into jelly.  Since most jams are too sweet for me, and jelly tends to be even sweeter, it makes sense that I don’t usually make it.  I also find it sort of counterintuitive to eliminate the fiber of the fruit to just concentrate on the juice; it lowers yield and leaves you with leftover pulp.  However, I still had some (by now) very wrinkly apples in the fridge, just dying to be used up; I didn’t think I would be able to peel them, they were so soft, so some recipe where I could just slice and cook, like my No Peel ‘Em Apple Butter, would be perfect.  But I still have plenty of apple butter in the pantry and I had my brain percolating over April’s Can Jam assignment: herbsApple Rosemary Jelly fit the bill perfectly.

It all started so innocently.  I looked at a couple of recipes; the basic apple jelly one in the Ball Book, an apple jelly with fresh mint recipe in Mes Confitures, and I was on my way.  I washed & sliced my wrinkly apples, simmered them in some water and frozen apple cider, rosemary & peppercorns, drained my pulp overnight a la Mme. Ferber, and the next day went on my merry jelly-making way. Because I very rarely make jelly, and because I very rarely use commercial pectin, I made two big mistakes.  First, I added only 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar to 5 cups juice (according to the Ball recipe I should have added more than 9 cups); clearly I had forgotten the whole “jelly needs sugar to gel” rule.  Secondly, I decided to use some liquid pectin that I had kicking around, forgetting two important rules: one, always check your pectin expiration date (November ’08) and two, pectin interacts with sugar. Hence you need low/no sugar pectin if you are lowering the sugar in a recipe. Ooops. You see why I never do this?  Jam is so easy: cook it, cook it, cook it some more, it looks good? Great – can it. Done. 

The first attempt yielded 6 cups of very watery syrup.  Nicely preserved watery syrup, of course, but, realizing my mistakes with the expired pectin, sugar, etc., I decided to open up all six jars, fire up the canner again, wash & sterilize everything again, and cook the jelly to 220 degrees F like I should have done in the first place. Which I did. I even boiled it hard for a full minute at 220 degrees F.  Then I canned it up (by now it was only about 3 and 1/4 cups), processed, and waited for the magic. And waited. And waited.  After two tries my apple-herb “jelly” is still syrup.  Much thicker syrup, yes, but distinctly syrup.  The highly annoying thing is that last 1/4 cup? The one that just got left in a bowl on the counter? That gelled up quite nicely, and is now sitting in the fridge, mocking its syrupy cousins.  Apparently the gel of this ‘jelly’ was so tenuous that it couldn’t take the 10 minutes of processing. Sigh.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – jelly & me – we got issues.

I console myself that I will probably only use it for marinades anyway, and syrup is actually easier than jelly for that purpose, but still. Failure rankles. At least I used up the last of the wrinkly apples.

For more herb preserving ideas, dive into the April CanJam round-up over at Tigress in a Jam.


Apple Cider Jelly Syrup with Rosemary & Peppercorn


  • about 3 lbs apples
  • 6 stems rosemary (about 6 inches each), divided
  • 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups apple cider, thawed from frozen
  • 1 and 1/2 cups turbinado sugar (or more, for adequate gel and/or flavor)


  1. Wash apples. Quarter, removing only the stems, and add to water & cider in a large stockpot.  Add 4 rosemary stems and peppercorns.  Stir to mix and bring to a boil, covered, over high heat.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes, or until apples are very soft.
  2. Remove rosemary twigs and discard. Push apples and juice through a food mill (on the fine grate) or chinois, collecting the juice & pulp in a large bowl.  Strain this juice + pulp mixture through a fine sieve lined with several layers of damp cheesecloth.  Allow this to drain overnight, in the refrigerator; for best results, do not push on the pulp in order to extract the last amounts of juice, or you will get pulp in the juice and end up with a cloudy jelly.
  3. Straining overnight should allow any sediment that does make it through the cheesecloth to sink to the bottom of the bowl; carefully remove the bowl from the refrigerator the next morning and scoop the majority of juice from the top, leaving any sediment in the bottom of the bowl. (Despite my best efforts, my juice was cloudy; cider? Who knows? I used it all and yielded 5 cups juice). Measure the juice as you scoop it out of the bowl (into a stockpot or jam pot) so that you know how much sugar to add. (Reserve the apple pulp for another use; I heated it through to boiling, added about 1/2 cup of water and a few tablespoons of honey, and canned it as savory applesauce).
  4. If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids.
  5. Strip the rosemary leaves from the remaining 2 stems and coarsley chop.  Put your pepper grinder on the coasest setting and grind about 1/2 tsp into a small bowl. 
  6. Bring juice to a boil over high heat.  Add sugar to your taste (most recipes will call for equal, or greater, amounts of sugar as juice; if you would like jelly, rather than syrup, I suggest adding more than 1 and 1/2 cups; possibly 3 cups would be enough?), stir to dissolve, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil, stirring occasionally, until the set point, 220 degrees F (or 8 degrees higher than the boiling point of water on your thermometer). Boil hard for 1 minute at the set point (although I did this faithfully, my processed jelly is still syrup. But I’m not bitter.).  Remove jelly from heat and quickly skim off foam.  Add chopped rosemary and cracked pepper, stir, and fill sterilized jars to 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rims, affix lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields about 3 cups.


  1. Obviously there are issues with my recipe as I could not get it to set.  Probably the low amount of sugar, so to ensure a set for your jellly, you can either increase the amount of sugar, add some pectin, or both. You can use either commercial pectin or apple pectin stock (which may also make the jelly cloudy); if using less than 3 cups of sugar, be sure to use low- or no-sugar pectin. Be sure to check your pectin expiration date (D’oh!).
  2. Substitute thyme, sage, or summer savory for the rosemary.  For a Mexican twist, use Mexican oregano and chipotle peppers. For an Asian flavor, try fresh or dried lemongrass and Thai hot chiles.


Canned, in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.  Refrigerated, use within 3 months.


Fall into Spring.


  1. Poor syrup, that bastard child of low sugar and old pectin. You’ll probably use it more as a syrup than a jelly, as you say, but still. When you want jelly, you want jelly, dammit.

  2. I know! I normally wouldn’t really care, as most of my jelly making is like this – an experiment. But the SECOND process kills me. The time! The energy! Six canning lids! 🙂

  3. I used a jar as a glaze for turkey breast (with plenty of white wine vinegar) and I have the say, it came out pretty fantastic: the glaze formed almost a hard candy shell on the turkey skin; caramelized, crispy & crunchy.

    However, the taste was very very apple cidery; the rosemary did not come through as much as I liked. If I tried it again, I would double the rosemary amount – there was a nice bit of spice from the pepper so I would leave that as is.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t actually tasted it straight; I’ll have to do that and report back.

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