SOMETIME THIS winter, when tree limbs are sagging with snow or ice, recall the days when the apple trees were weighted down with ripened fruit by treating yourself to hot toasty english muffins oozing with shimmering, sparkling homemade apple jelly.

While few of us have our own orchards, we do have ready access to great apples. So, take a short drive into orchard country and find firm tart apples such as rome beauty or stayman. They have the highest pectin content and make excellent jelly. Less tart, but still suitable are the jonathans. Granny smith, although not local, yield fine, subtle jelly. While delicious apples may be used, the jelly is sweeter and less flavorful.

Jelly color comes from the fruit skins, and ranges from pale rose to fine golden from the granny smith. For variety of flavor or color in apple jelly, add fresh herbs or spices, combine apple types, or team other fruits with apples.

Rosemary, thyme, lemon mint and rose or lemon geraniums give a light, fresh accent to basic apple jelly. Cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice lend more pronounced flavor. Fruits such as raspberries, grapes, tomatoes or cranberries add depth of flavor and color. For an unusual twist try small amounts of port, chartreuse, vermouth or other distinctive liquors.

Apple jelly structure is formed by combining pectin, a substance found in the skin, seeds and body of the apple, with acid and sugar in the proper concentration. Tart apples are a great source of both natural pectin and acid, so adding sugar is the only real requirement for jelly formation. Usually 3/4 cup granulated sugar is appropriate for 1 cup fresh cooked apple juice. Cold pressed fruit juice, or commercial juices contain no pectin and will gel only with the addition of bottled or granular pectin.

To make jelly, cook apples initially with a bit of water to extract pectin, flavor and color. Strain fruit in a wet jelly bag to obtain a clear juice. Jelly bags are available locally in kitchen equipment stores. It is also easy to make one from a tightly woven fabric, such as a cotton sheet. The bag should be cone shaped and at least 16 inches deep and 16 inches in diameter at the top. To strain the juice, tie the mouth of the filled jelly bag tightly with a long cord, hang the bag from a supported broom handle, and allow juice to drip undisturbed into a large bowl. A commercial metal drip stand also may be used. Cook the strained juice with sugar to concentrate pectin, flavor and color, and to set the jelly.

To determine when the jelly is ready to set, use the sheet test and/or the chill test.

Begin to test jelly for sheeting when a candy thermometer reaches 215 degrees or about 12 minutes into the cooking time with the sugar. Jelly will usually sheet between 217-221 degrees. To test, roll a small amount of hot juice around the bowl of a large metal spoon to cool it slightly. Allow the liquid to drip off the edge of the spoon. It if falls in two drops that move together to form one drop, the jelly is "sheeting" and should be sufficiently concentrated.

For further insurance, try the chill test. Pour a teaspoon of the jelly onto a chilled metal dish. Return to the freezer for 1 minute, then pull finger through jelly. If the jelly wrinkles and the two halves stay separate, the jelling point has been reached and the jelly should be bottled immediately. While testing the jelly, remove the pot from the heat to avoid overcooking.

Here is a basic apply jelly recipe with unusual variations. For the basic recipe, one pound of apples usually yields 1-1 1/4 cups apple juice. The variations use juice from the basic recipe. If you do not want to use the juice immediately, bottle it and refrigerate for one week, or freeze for up to two months.

Bottle the hot jelly in clean preserving jars with two-piece lids. Fill jar, leaving 1/2 inch head space at top of jar. Wipe the top and sides of the jar rim clean. Screw lid onto jar snugly, but do not tighten excessively as air must escape during processing. Processing in a hot water bath sterilizes the air space between the surface of the jelly and jar top, preventing mold formation.

To process, fill a water bath canner or large pot with water and bring to a boil. Set hot jars in the pot, making sure water covers the jar by at least 1 inch. Cover the pot, bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove jars with rubber coated tongs to a towel-covered counter. Let jelly stand undisturbed until cool.

To test the seal: Cooled sealed jars will have a concave lid. Press each lid and it should remain concave. If not, reprocess jelly with new lids, or refrigerate jelly and eat within 1-2 weeks.

Savor apple jelly as a morning treat, a condiment with dinner, a glaze for meat or present as a special gift to friends. BASIC APPLE JELLY (Fills about 3 8-ounce jars) 4-4 1/2 pounds firm unblemished tart apples 1/2 lemon Approximately 3 cups granulated sugar

Wash apples and slice thinly or cut into pieces. Use the food processor if desired. Do not peel, remove core or pits from apples. Remove yellow skin from lemon, leaving white pith intact. Slice lemon into 1/8-inch thick slices with the white pith on them.

Place apples and lemon into a large enamel or stainless steel pot with a flat bottom. Add cold water so you can just see it through the top layer of fruit, but not enough to float apples.

Heat apples on medium heat to a simmer, lower heat and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes until apples are very soft. Mash apples with a potato masher.

Wet and wring out a jelly bag and pour in hot cooked apple mixture. Let drip into a deep bowl for 4-5 hours or overnight. If you want a sparkling clear jelly, do not squeeze the bag.

Measure the juice and add 3/4 cup sugar for each cup of juice. Put the juice and sugar in a pot whose size is four times the volume of juice to allow for foaming of jelly. Bring juice to a boil on medium high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Best results occur if no more than 4-6 cups of juice are cooked at a time. Maintain a slow rolling boil without stirring for 15-20 minutes until the jelly sheets when tested. Test for sheeting when a candy thermometer reaches 215 degrees or about 12 minutes into the cooking time with the sugar. Jelly will usually sheet at 217-221 degrees. Roll a small amount of hot juice around the bowl of a large metal spoon to cool it slightly. Allow the liquid to drip off the edge of the spoon. If it falls in two drops that move together to form one drop, the jelly is sheeting and should be sufficiently concentrated. Excessive stirring can incorporate too many bubbles and evaporate too much liquid. Remove pot from heat when testing jelly. Skim foam quickly from jelly.

Pour jelly into clean jars. Bottle and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. APPLE JELLY WITH PORT (Fills 3 8-ounce jars)

This is delicious with pork chops, roast turkey, duck or ham. 4 cups apple juice from basic recipe (above) 3 cups granulated sugar 4 tablespoons port

Boil apple juice and sugar until it sheets. Test for sheeting when a candy thermometer reaches 215 degrees or about 12 minutes into the cooking time with the sugar. Jelly will usually sheet at 217-221 degrees. Roll a small amount of hot juice around the bowl of a large metal spoon to cool it slightly. Allow the liquid to drip off the edge of the spoon. If it falls in two drops that move together to form one drop, the jelly is sheeting and should be sufficiently concentrated. Add port and boil for 2-3 minutes longer. Check sheeting, bottle and seal. ROSEMARY APPLE JELLY WITH CHARTREUSE (Fills 3 8-ounce jars)

Excellent accompaniment to roast chicken, lamb chops or leg of lamb. 4 cups apple juice from basic recipe (above) 6 4-inch sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and crushed 3 cups granulated sugar 3 to 4 tablespoons green Chartreuse 3 3-inch sprigs fresh rosemary

Put the apple juice and rosemary leaves in a large enamel or stainless steel pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 2 hours. Squeeze juice from rosemary leaves and discard leaves.

Measure the juice and add 3/4 cup sugar for each cup of juice. Put the juice and sugar in a pot whose size is four times the volume of juice to allow for foaming of jelly. Bring juice to a boil on medium high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Best results occur if no more than 4-6 cups of juice are cooked at a time. Maintain a slow rolling boil without stirring for 15-20 minutes until the jelly sheets when tested. Test for sheeting when a candy thermometer reaches 215 degrees or about 12 minutes into the cooking time with the sugar. Jelly will usually sheet at 217-221 degrees. Roll a small amount of hot juice around the bowl of a large metal spoon to cool it slightly. Allow the liquid to drip off the edge of the spoon. If it falls in two drops that move together to form one drop, the jelly is sheeting and should be sufficiently concentrated. Excessive stirring can incorporate too many bubbles and evaporate too much liquid. Remove pot from heat when testing jelly. Skim foam quickly from jelly.

After the jelling point has been reached, add the Chartreuse without stirring and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Check sheeting, place rosemary sprig in each jar, bottle jelly and seal. LEMON MINT APPLE JELLY (Fills 3 8-ounce jars)

Ideal with ham, pork or as a glaze for chicken. 4 cups apple juice from basic recipe (above) 100 lemon mint leaves, crushed 3 cups granulated sugar

Put the apple juice and lemon mint leaves in a large enamel or stainless steel pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat and let stand for 2 hours. Squeeze juice from leaves and discard leaves.

Measure the juice and add 3/4 cup sugar for each cup of juice. Put the juice and sugar in a pot whose size is four times the volume of juice to allow for foaming of jelly. Bring juice to a boil on medium high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Best results occur if no more than 4-6 cups of juice are cooked at a time. Maintain a slow rolling boil without stirring for 15-20 minutes until the jelly sheets when tested. Test for sheeting when a candy thermometer reaches 215 degrees or about 12 minutes into the cooking time with the sugar. Jelly will usually sheet at 217-221 degrees. Roll a small amount of hot juice around the bowl of a large metal spoon to cool it slightly. Allow the liquid to drip off the edge of the spoon. If it falls in two drops that move together to form one drop, the jelly is sheeting and should be sufficiently concentrated. Excessive stirring can incorporate too many bubbles and evaporate too much liquid. Remove pot from heat when testing jelly. Skim foam quickly from jelly.

Pour jelly into clean jars. Bottle and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. SPICED APPLE JELLY (Fills 3 8-ounce jars)

Serve with duck, crisp waffles or baked ham. 4 cups apple juice from basic recipe (above) 2 cinammon sticks, halved 8 whole cloves, balls removed from heads 3 cups granulated sugar 1/4 cup port

Put the apple juice, cinammon sticks and cloves in a large enamel or stainless steel pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat and let stand for 2 hours.

Remove cinammon sticks and cloves from juice.

Measure the juice and add 3/4 cup sugar for each cup of juice. Put the juice and sugar in a pot whose size is four times the volume of juice to allow for foaming of jelly. Bring juice to a boil on medium high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Best results occur if no more than 4-6 cups of juice are cooked at a time. Maintain a slow rolling boil without stirring for 15-20 minutes until the jelly sheets when tested. Test for sheeting when a candy thermometer reaches 215 degrees or about 12 minutes into the cooking time with the sugar. Jelly will usually sheet at 217-221 degrees. Roll a small amount of hot juice around the bowl of a large metal spoon to cool it slightly. Allow the liquid to drip off the edge of the spoon. If it falls in two drops that move together to form one drop, the jelly is sheeting and should be sufficiently concentrated. Excessive stirring can incorporate too much liquid. Remove pot from heat when testing jelly. Skim foam quickly from jelly. After the jelling point has been reached, add the port without stirring and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Check sheeting, bottle jelly, process and seal. ROSE'S APPLE RASPBERRY JELLY (Fills 3 8-ounce jars)

Delicious with hot biscuits, english muffins or banana muffins. 4 cups apple juice from basic recipe (above) 1 tablespoon lemon juice 10-12 ounce package frozen raspberries, thawed, berries and juice About 2 1/2 cups sugar

Mix the apple juice, lemon juice and thawed berries and juice in a large enamel or stainless steel pan. Cover, bring to a boil, mash berries and boil covered for 5 minutes.

Wet and wring out a jelly bag and pour in hot cooked apple mixture. Let drip into a deep bowl for 4-5 hours or overnight. If you want a sparkling clear jelly, do not squeeze the bag.

Measure the juice and add 3/4 cup sugar for each cup of juice. Put the juice and sugar in a pot whose size is four times the volume of juice to allow for foaming of jelly. Bring juice to a boil on medium high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Best results occur if no more than 4-6 cups of juice are cooked at a time. Maintain a slow rolling boil without stirring for 15-20 minutes until the jelly sheets when tested. Test for sheeting when a candy thermometer reaches 215 degrees or about 12 minutes into the cooking time with the sugar. Jelly will usually sheet at 217-221 degrees. Roll a small amount of hot juice around the bowl of a large metal spoon to cool it slightly. Allow the liquid to drip off the edge of the spoon. If it falls in two drops that move together to form one drop, the jelly is sheeting and should be sufficiently concentrated. Excessive stirring can incorporate too many bubbles and evaporate too much liquid. Remove pot from heat when testing jelly. Skim foam quickly from jelly.

Pour jelly into clean jars. Bottle and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. NANA'S AUTUMN JELLY (Fills 3 8-ounce jars)

Great with bagels and cream cheese or with cheese and crackers. 1 1/2 pounds unblemished tart apples (about 5 cups, chopped) 1 pound ripe tomatoes (about 2 cups, chopped) 1 pound blue grapes 1/2 cup water About 2 1/2 cups sugar

Do not peel or core fruit. Remove grapes from stems and mash. Combine the apples, tomatoes, grapes and water in a large enamel or stainless steel pan.

Heat fruit on medium heat to a simmer, lower heat and simmer covered for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mash fruit with a potato masher.

Wet and wring out a jelly bag and pour in hot cooked apple mixture. Let drip into a deep bowl for 4-5 hours or overnight. If you want a sparkling clear jelly, do not squeeze the bag.

Measure the juice and add 3/4 cup sugar for each cup of juice. Put the juice and sugar in a pot whose size is four times the volume of juice to allow for foaming of jelly. Bring juice to a boil on medium high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Best results occur if no more than 4-6 cups of juice are cooked at a time. Maintain a slow rolling boil without stirring for 15-20 minutes until the jelly sheets when tested. Test for sheeting when a candy thermometer reaches 215 degrees or about 12 minutes into the cooking time with the sugar. Jelly will usually sheet at 217-221 degrees. Roll a small amount of hot juice around the bowl of a large metal spoon to cool it slightly. Allow the liquid to drip off the edge of the spoon. If it falls in two drops that move together to form one drop, the jelly is sheeting and should be sufficiently concentrated. Excessive stirring can incorporate too many bubbles and evaporate too much liquid. Remove pot from heat when testing jelly. Skim foam quickly from jelly.

Pour jelly into clean jars. Bottle and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.