Rowan Jelly from Rodden Trees
From August to October, when the nights are drawing in, it is the time of year you might see the rowan trees drooping with their orangey red fruits. From time immemorial the rowan tree has been watched and worshipped. It was said to ward off evil spirits, and a tree heavy laden with fruit was the sign of a harsh forthcoming winter.
The taste of this fruit was obviously more familiar to our ancestors than it is now. The fruit of the rowan tree used to be called rodden in Scotland. Rodden was synonymous with anything sour, i.e. a face as sour as roddens. In old Scottish cookery books rowan jelly is often filed under rodden jelly. The 19th century Scottish recipe collecter Lady Clark of Tillypronie was a bit of a connoisseur of rowan jelly. A side note in one of her recipes for rowan jelly states that it improves and mellows with one or two years ageing. A sophisticated jelly for a sophisticated lady.
The fruit when raw is incredibly tart and bitter, as well as mildly poisonous, however it can be transformed into an exquisite jelly that makes the most perfect accompaniment to game. For one thing rowan trees are absolutely everywhere so there is no reason why we shouldn’t have a chance to enjoy this delicacy.
A roast game bird served with a little rowan jelly, and bread sauce, has got to be something you have to try before you die. Scotland is famous for the quality of its game, and it is now quite readily available, so we should celebrate Scottish game with all the wonderful things we have to accompany it. Game can be found at farmer’s markets, butchers, fishmongers, and even the supermarket. Now that birds such as pheasant are farmed so prolifically for shoots they can be cheaper than the cheapest chicken. Rowan jelly is especially good with strong tasting meat such as grouse, venison and mutton, this was the traditional accompaniment.
Rowans are often called berries when in fact the fruit is a pome, the same family as apples. Incidentally, close up they really look like little apples. For poetic satisfaction, as well as practical reasons, it is a good idea to make rowan jelly with some apples in the mix. Apples give it a good flavour and help to set it as rowans do not have a high pectin content. You can make rowan jelly exclusively with rowans but it is more difficult to get it to set. The quantities you make depend on how many rowans you pick. The ingredients below follow a simple formula using a one to one ratio for all the ingredients. For example, for every 1kg of rowans you pick use 1kg of apples and you boil them in 1litre of water. For every litre of juice you get from this you use 1 kg of sugar.
Recipe for Rowan Jelly
1kg sour apples such as bramley’s peeled and chopped (crab apples would be even better if you know where to find them). You don’t need to core the apples, there is a lot of pectin in the cores.
1 litre water
1kg castor sugar
When you have picked the rowans remove the leaves and all the stalks. This can take a bit of time but it is an easy job. Wash them in a large bowl, with several changes of water until it comes out clean. Put them in a large pot with the apples and the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. When the rowans are very soft take it off the heat and mash them with a potato masher.
Strain this mixture through a fine sieve. Traditionally it would be strained through muslin or cloth but this is not necessary as you still get a clear jelly straining through a sieve. Leave this to drip through. I usually leave this overnight to get every last drop.
In a large pot dissolve the sugar in the strained juice over a low heat. Now turn the heat up as high as it will go and boil until it reaches 104˚C. It should take 10-15 minutes of vigorous boiling. The other way to tell that the jelly will set is to spoon a small amount on to a very cold plate. After 1 minute the jelly should wrinkle up when you push it with your finger. It is a good idea to put 3 – 4 plates in the freezer so you can retest it easily if need be.
Remove any scum from the top while boiling. You will be able to remove any remaining scum when it comes off the heat as it always rises to the surface. This should give you a crystal clear jelly. Pour into cleaned and sterilised jars. This raspberry jam recipe gives lots of useful tips and information in making jams and jellies.