For just a few weeks now we can enjoy Irish eating apples. Last year we had a fantastic crop of apples, every tree was laden so we had masses to eat and share. This Autumn however, the orchard is almost bare – apples are few and far between. The weather was bad during apple blossom time in May, so the set was bad. Nonetheless we have enough Worcester Pearmain to enjoy for a few weeks and there will be a few Cox’s Pippin later on, they don’t usually ripen until the end of October but are certainly worth the wait. We’ve got a reasonable crop of Egremont Russet on just six trees trained over arches in the fruit garden. This area is more sheltered which could account for the increase in yield.
For the past few weeks we’ve been enjoying the first cookers, a variety called Grenadier, baked and in pies, tarts and sauce. This is a delicious bitter-sweet variety which tides us over until the Arthur Turner are ripe, and eventually in October we can pick the king of cookers, Bramley Seedling. This variety stores well in a cold garage or shed. Years ago, when I was a child, our gardener Pad made a straw lined pit in the garden to store the apples for winter use. Of course they deteriorated a bit as the winter progressed but they kept remarkably well, so many of these skills are lost nowadays, and even my children think I’m loopy when I talk of burying apples in the ground to store them. After all, one can buy ‘perfectly good’ apples in the shops at any time – the reality is however, that the commercial crops are harvested under-ripe, and even though they are kept perfectly in stores, they never quite look and taste the same as the home-grown apples. The latter are ripened to maturity on the tree, consequently, when they are cooked or baked, they break down into a delicious fluff characteristic of the Bramley,
For that reason its really worth considering a couple of apple trees. Most gardens would have space for 2 or 3 at least, and of course its worth planting varieties not available commercially. In fact, if you have space, its worth considering a small orchard. With a little research, one can plant a variety of apple trees, from the deliciously scented and curiously named Irish Peach (also known as Early Croston) which ripens in late July , to Ardcairn Russet (discovered in Cork) which remain on the trees until November and will store for months. Contact Anita Hayes of Irish Seedsavers, in Capparoe, Scariff, Co Clare for advice. She and her team have a wonderful collection of Irish apple trees which they continue to add to every year, over 70 varieties available at present, some were bred specially for certain areas, eg.Ballyvaughan Seedling is particularly suited to the soil and microclimate in that coastal area of Co. Clare. Late January into February is the time to plant so there is still time to do some research – the pleasure you will get from picking your own apples is certainly worth the little effort it takes to plant a tree.
Meanwhile, watch out for Irish apples in the shops, Bride Valley Fruit Farm near Tallow, Co Waterford have their apples in the shops now and also sell both eating and cooking apples directly from the farm. David Keane’s delicious apples and pears from their orchard in Cappoquin are being harvested at present, his wife Ju Ju has started to make the new season’s Crinnaghtaun Apple Juice. Last year we sent several tons of ripe apples up to Con Traas near Cahir in Co. Tipperary to be crushed into juice which we enjoyed all winter – this year we’ll have none – such are the vagaries of nature. Con’s own orchard hasn’t suffered too much, he is happy with the crop and will be busy producing his own Karmine apple juice, Philip and Oran Little from the Little Orchard Company farm in Piltown Co, Kilkenny also bring their apples to Con for pressing, they sell the juice at Midleton Farmers Market and the Galway Market. In the Dublin area David Llewellyn sells his apple juice at Temple Bar Market every Saturday, as well as having it for sale in shops and delis in Dublin.
Apple and Cinnamon Fritters
Serves 6 approx.
Apple Fritters have been one of my absolutely favourite puddings since I was a child – nothing changed I still love them.
4 cooking apples, Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
4 ozs (110g) plain white flour
pinch of salt
1 egg, free range if possible
¼ pint (150ml) milk
sunflower or peanut oil for frying
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
1 teasp. cinnamon
Sieve the flour into a bowl, add a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre, whisk the egg slightly, pour into the centre slowly add the milk whisking in a full circle, gradually bring in the flour from the outside. Continue to whisk until the batter is light and bubbly. Peel and core the apples, cut into ¼ inch (5mm) thick slices. Heat about 1½ inches (4cm) of oil in a frying pan. Dip a few slices of apple into the batter one by one. Fry on both sides until crisp and golden, drain well. Add cinnamon to the castor sugar, toss each fritter in and serve immediately with softly whipped cream.
Bananas also make great fritters. Split in half lengthways and then in half again if you would like shorter pieces. Omit the cinnamon from the castor sugar if you want them unadulterated.
The Tatin sisters ran a restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne at the beginning of the century. They created this tart, some say accidentally, but however it came about it is a triumph – soft, buttery caramelised apples (or indeed you can also use pears) with crusty golden pastry underneath. It is unquestionably my favourite French tart!
2¾ lbs (1.24 kg) approx. Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Bramley Seedling cooking apples
6 ozs (170 g) puff pastry or rich sweet shortcrust pastry
4 ozs (110 g) unsalted butter
8 ozs (225 g) castor sugar
Heavy 8 inch (20.5 cm) copper or stainless steel saucepan with low sides
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/regulo 7 for puff pastry.
For shortcrust -180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.
Peel, halve and core the apples. Melt the butter in the saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a medium heat until it turns golden – fudge colour. Put the apple halves in upright, packing them in very tightly side by side. Replace the pan on a low heat and cook until the sugar and juice are a dark caramel colour. Put into a hot oven for approx. 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, roll out the pastry into a round slightly larger than the saucepan. Prick it all over with a fork. Cover the apples with the pastry and nick in the edges. Put the saucepan into the fully preheated oven until the pastry is cooked and the apples are soft-25-30 minutes approx.
Take out of the oven and rest for 5-10 minutes or longer if you like. Put a plate over the top of the saucepan and flip the tart on to a serving plate. (Watch out – this is a rather tricky operation because the hot caramel and juice can ooze out!). Reshape the tart if necessary and serve warm with softly whipped cream.
Blackberry and Apple and Sweet Geranium Jam
Makes 9-10 x 450 g/1 lb jars approx.
All over the countryside every year, blackberries rot on the hedgerows. Think of all the wonderful jam that could be made – so full of Vitamin C! This year organise a blackberry picking expedition and take a picnic. You’ll find it’s the greatest fun, and when you come home one person could make a few scones while someone else is making the jam. The children could be kept out of mischief and gainfully employed drawing and painting home-made jam labels, with personal messages like Lydia’s Jam – keep off! , or Grandma’s Raspberry Jam. Then you can enjoy the results of your labours with a well-earned cup of tea.
Blackberries are a bit low in pectin, so the apples help it to set as well as adding extra flavour.
2.3 kg (5 lbs) blackberries
900 g (2 lbs) cooking apples (Bramley, or Grenadier in season)
1.625 kg (4½ lbs) sugar (use ½ lb less if blackberries are sweet)
8-10 Sweet Geranium leaves
Wash, peel and core and slice the apples. Stew them until soft with 290 ml/½ pint of water in a stainless steel saucepan; beat to a pulp.
Pick over the blackberries, cook until soft, adding about 145 ml/¼ pint of water if the berries are dry. If you like, push them through a coarse sieve to remove seeds. Put the blackberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the apple pulp and the heated sugar. Destalk and chop the sweet geranium leaves, add and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.
Boil steadily for about 15 minutes. Skim the jam, test it for a set and pot into warm spotlessly clean jars.