Apples, apples everywhere, and what to do…?
I love homegrown apples, we grow many different varieties. It’s kind of odd but I scarcely eat an apple all year, except when our own apples are ripe in the orchard. It’s not a higher moral ground thing, just that I don’t seem to feel like it and somehow, I have a gnawing unease about possible chemical residues in non-organic apples.
We grow many varieties of both dessert and cooking apples, particularly heirloom varieties that are rarely if ever found in the shops. They ripen gradually over a long season from the deliciously mottled Beauty of Bath and Irish Peach, (yes, it’s an apple) that ripen in late July to early-August to varieties like Honey Crisp and Brambley’s Seedling that matures slowly.But now, just like many of our neighbours and friends we have a mega glut of delicious juicy apples. As ever, I get agitated and am tormented by guilt. I don’t want to waste a single apple, an almost impossible task!
One can of course share with your friends except they are probably in a similar predicament.
We all remember the oft repeated, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, there’s usually something of value in these old sayings. Well, it turns out that according to Professor Gabrielle Berg from Gras University of Technology in Austria, one of the scientists involved in a study on apples, a typical apple contains a hundred million microbes. Apparently, this enormous bacterial community which help to colonize our gut is much more balanced and diverse in organic apples which makes them tastier, healthier and better for the environment as well as our physical and mental health.
Individual fruits can be stored for months in a frost-free garage or a cold, dark larder if your fortunate enough to have such a thing. Choose perfect apples, free of bruises or blemishes. Wrap each in paper and arrange in a single layer on a rack. Make sure they don’t touch each other. Moulded paper mache packaging from the greengrocer or supermarket are perfect, you’ll get them free.
Divide the apples into cookers and eaters. Check regularly and use or discard any showing signs of deterioration. As a general rule, the later ripening varieties keep longer – up to 6 months when properly stored.
If you have the good fortune to have an old Bramley Seedling apple tree, rather than the more recent cultivars, they are by far the best for fluffy apple pies, crumbles, apple sauce and of course, baked apples. The sweeter the apple, the more likely they are to hold their shape in cooking.
Apples are naturally high in pectin which helps to set jams and jellies and preserves effortlessly. Apple jelly is a brilliant catchall recipe to add fistfuls of seasonal autumn berries. For example, elderberry, sloes or damsons and of course blackberries. We call this Forager’s Jelly, I also add the hard green fruit from the Chaenomeles japonica shrubs to make an apple and japonica jelly to partner game deliciously.
Medlars will soon be ripe and bletted, they too make a delicious jelly to enhance a roast mallard or pheasant.
Make lots of apple or crab apple jelly, windfalls are fine. Just cut out the bruised bits, they can be stored for Christmas hampers…only 11 weeks away now, how scary is that!
Apple juice is so worth making, you’ll need a centrifuge but if you have lots of apples, it’s definitely worth the investment. Freeze the fresh juice immediately in recycled litre milk containers, otherwise it will ferment. Basic stewed apple is also brilliant to have in boxes in the freezer for apple sauce, crumbles, apple snow, apple charlotte. And how about dried apple slices (see my column of 23rd October 2021), another fun thing to do and kids love them in their school lunchboxes. And then there’s cider of course but to make a really good cider, you’ll need cider apple varieties rather than a random mixture of apples.
Here are some recipes to whet your appetite…
Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée
The secret of really good apple sauce is to use a heavy-based saucepan and very little water. The apples should break down into a fluff during the cooking. This can also be served as an apple sauce with pork or duck and freezes perfectly.
450g Bramley Seedling cooking apples
3-4 sweet geranium leaves
2 tsp water
50g sugar, or more depending on tartness of the apples
Peel, quarter and core the
apples, then cut the quarters in two and put in a small stainless steel or
cast-iron saucepan. Add the sweet geranium leaves, sugar and water, cover and
cook over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, stir so it’s a
uniform texture and taste for sweetness.
Myrtle Allen’s Bramley Apple Snow
We love this simple, traditional featherlight pudding. It’s great with shortbread biscuits or even Lady Fingers, amazingly delicious for little effort. Windfall apples can be used, just discard any bruised bits. This recipe has been passed down from my mother-in-law Myrtle Allen’s family.
450g Arthur Turner, Lanes Prince Albert or Bramley Seedling cooking apples
approximately 50g granulated sugar
2 organic egg whites
cream, soft brown sugar and shortbread biscuits or Lady Fingers, to serve
Peel and core the apples, cut into chunks and put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and 1-2 dessertspoons of water, cover and cook over a low, gentle heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring every now and then until the apples dissolve into a fluff. Rub through a nylon sieve or liquidise. Bramley apples can be very sour at the beginning of the season, taste and add a little more sugar if it seems too tart.
Whisk the egg whites until stiffly whipped, then fold in gently. Taste, pour into a pretty glass bowl, pop into the fridge and serve well chilled with cream, soft brown sugar and shortbread biscuits or Lady Fingers.
This recipe brings back nostalgic memories for many of us, and it is certainly one that has stood the test of time. I remember it as an important part of the pudding repertoire of my childhood, and so will my children and grandchildren. Here you use the basic Madeira mixture for the topping and add fruit – whatever you please, depending on the season: rhubarb, pears, damsons, raspberries, gooseberries. Blackcurrants are also gorgeous, as is a mixture of blackberry and apples or rhubarb and strawberries.
700g cooking apples, Bramley’s Seedling or Grenadier
about 75-110g sugar
For the Topping
1 organic egg, beaten
75g self-raising flour
1-2 tbsp milk
homemade custard or lightly whipped cream
900ml pie dish
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
Peel, core and slice the apples and put them in a heavy saucepan with 1 tablespoon of water and the sugar. Cover the pan and stew the apples gently until just soft, then tip into a buttered pie dish.
Cream the butter until soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg by degrees and beat well until completely incorporated. Sieve the flour and fold into the butter and egg mixture. Add about 1 tablespoon of milk or enough to bring the mixture to a dropping consistency. Spread this mixture gently over the apple.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the sponge topping is firm to the touch in the centre. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Serve warm with homemade custard or lightly whipped cream.
Apple and Blackberry Traybake with Sweet Geranium Sugar
You’ll find yourself reaching for this recipe over and over again. Here I use apples and blackberries with sweet geranium, but I also love it with green gooseberries and elderflower, or plums. I enjoy arranging the blackberries and apples in neat lines, but if you are super busy just sprinkle them over the top of the sponge base.
8–12 lemon geranium leaves (Pelargonium graveolens)
3–4 cooking apples, such as Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
25g caster sugar
crème fraîche or softly whipped cream, to serve
For the Sponge Base
225g softened butter
175g caster sugar
275g self-raising flour
4 organic, free-range eggs
Sweet Geranium Sugar
2-4 sweet geranium leaves
50g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas Mark 3.
Line the base of a 33 x 23 x 5cm cake tin, or a 25.5cm sauté pan or cast-iron frying pan with parchment paper, allowing it to hang over the sides. Arrange 6-8 sweet geranium leaves over the base – these give the sponge a haunting lemony flavour.
To make the sponge base, combine the butter, sugar and flour in the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a second or two, then add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon the mixture over the base of the tin as evenly as possible (over the sweet geranium leaves).
Peel the apples. Cut into thin slices and arrange on top of the sponge in three lines. Arrange a line of blackberries in between each row. Sprinkle 25g of caster sugar over the top and bake for about 50 minutes.
Meanwhile make the sweet geranium sugar.
Whizz 2-4 sweet geranium leaves with the caster sugar in a food processor. Spread over a baking tray and set aside at room temperature to dry out.
Once it is fully cooked, the centre of the cake should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the tin. Serve in the tin, sprinkled with the sweet geranium sugar. Alternatively, leave to rest in the tin for 4-5 minutes before turning out. Serve with crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.
Apple and Ginger Jam
Try to find home-grown Bramley apples. They have quite a different flavour and texture from commercial varieties that have now been adapted to keep their shape in cooking rather than endearingly dissolving into a fluff as Bramley’s once did.
Makes 10 x 200ml jars
1.8kg Bramley Seedling or other tart cooking apples
2 organic lemons
25g fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1.6kg granulated sugar, warmed in an oven at 80-100°C for 15 minutes
Peel the apples and remove their cores. Put the peels and cores into a stainless-steel saucepan with 425ml of water. Cook over a medium heat until soft.
Meanwhile, chop the apples and put them into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan. Add the finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice from the 2 lemons, plus the ginger and 600ml of water. Bring to the boil and cook until the apples dissolve into a purée.
As soon as the apple peels and cores are soft, strain through a nylon sieve into the other saucepan. Bring the mixture back to the boil, add the hot sugar and stir to dissolve. Boil until the jam reaches a setting point *. Pot into sterilised jars and cover while still hot. Store in a cool, dry place.
*Put a plate in the fridge to chill. When the jam looks as though it’s almost set, take a teaspoonful and put it onto the cold plate. Push the outer edge of the jam puddle into the centre with your index finger. If the jam wrinkles even a little, it will set.
Apple and Cinnamon Vodka
Fill a sterilised glass jar with chopped apples, add a couple of cinnamon sticks and 200-250g sugar depending on the variety of apple. Cover in vodka, seal, shake and allow to infuse for 4-14 days. Strain and pour into sterilised bottles, cover tightly and enjoy over ice or with tonic water.