Rowan Jelly

Recipe from Jane Cheape
Submitted by Acair Books


4-5 lbs of Rowan berries, washed and weighed
1 lb small Bramley apples, washed and chopped
Lemon peel


Put the fruit into a large saucepan and just cover with water. Simmer until it is pale and pulpy and the liquor has turned a rich red – 4-5 hrs.

Overnight, strain the contents through a jelly bag or a sieve lined with muslin. A ‘J’ cloth will do. Do not be tempted to squeeze or press the fruit. This results in a cloudy jelly.

Measure the juice. To each pint of juice add a pound of sugar and a strip of lemon peel. Stir over a low heat in a large, clean saucepan. When the sugar has melted allow to boil. Chill 2 saucers in the fridge. Check for a set after 15- 20 minutes. The mixture will begin to show a rolling boil which indicates it is near setting. Test by putting a little jelly onto a cold saucer. Give it a push and if it wrinkles you have a set.

Skim any scum off the surface, remove lemon peel and pour into small pots. Cover when cold.

There are a few telling remains of an old house across the track here; smooth, heavy washed pebbles which once held down a thatched roof with heather ropes, fragments of pottery and china now buried in the earth which once adorned a dresser. Most conspicuous are the rowan trees, bent with age but still giving a brave flurry of berries. The rowan tree, sorbus, was believed to protect against witchcraft and was planted at the gable of a house for that purpose. With its white flowers and red berries, each with a tiny five-pointed star, they indicate human habitation in the Highlands more emphatically than any gloomy rickle of stones. So as I gaze into my little pots of clear, blood-red jelly I’ll quietly celebrate with Lady Carolina Nairne who published her poem The Rowan Tree in 1822.

Oh rowan tree, oh rowan tree,
Thoul’t aye be dear to me.
Entwin’d thou art wi’ mony ties’
O’ hame and infancy.

And those Bramleys, small, misshapen, sometimes scabby, strangely greasy, return me not quite to infancy but to a job as a teenager picking apples in a Kentish orchard. We were provided with a ladder and a sizing device consisting of a metal ring mounted on a wooden handle. Those apples that passed through were rejected by the market and packed separately into old wooden boxes. Some of them were left at the gate or deposited in Church porches for anyone to take. They were wild food, of a type. This year I was given a bag of Fife-grown Bramleys. Next year the apple tree I planted in 2011 to celebrate 40 years of coming to the Scottish Highlands should fruit, just a few yards from the ancient rowan trees. I hope so.

Jane Cheape is the author of Hand to Mouth: The Traditional Food of the Scottish Highlands, a readable and informative book on the development of food preparation

Jane Cheape is published by Acair Books.