My apple trees are still fairly young, so I like to use the fruit in special ways. I have two apple cookery books that I’ve had for many years. My mother gave me The Apple Book by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan (Bodley Head Ltd 1984) to help cope with a glut of family apples many years ago.
The Apple Book contains a great recipe for ‘Autumn Jam’ which was handy for using up plums when we had plum gluts and also a wonderful ‘Apple and Marrow chutney’ which inspired me to grow marrows. It also has one of my favourite apple cake recipes: apple gingerbread. You are supposed to make this gingerbread in a loaf tin but it makes an equally good round or square cake. It is like a cross between a gingerbread and an apple cake – and all the better for that. Last Christmas we still had one Howgate Wonder left and wanted to use it for something special. I decide on Apple Strudel and found a recipe in this book. The recipe starts with the ominous statement: ‘Don’t worry, strudel pastry is not difficult to make’. I usually take statements like that to mean that it is difficult, so be prepared for a disaster. I must have been feeling brave and took the risk, worrying still more when I got to the part which said ‘don’t panic if the pastry tears’ and really not believing the bit that said ‘pick up one end of the tea towel and lift it slightly so the strudel rolls over on itself’. This would be the point that the whole thing would fall on the floor. Since I thought I might as well have an audience for this disaster, I got the assistant gardeners (or assistant chefs this time) to come and watch. Much to their disappointment, it worked out fine and tasted great.
I found A Harvest of Apples by Ruth Ward (Penguin, 1988) in a charity shop. This book has a handy list of apple varieties at the back. The list includes the phenomenal ‘Howgate Wonder’, which was apparently ‘raised in 1915 by G Wratten’ on the Isle of Wight. So the variety is nearly a hundred years old. It’s a cross between a ‘Blenheim Orange (1740) and a ‘Newton Wonder’ (1887) so has an even longer ancestry. As well as these little gems about the origins of apple varieties, the book includes about a dozen apple cakes, several jams and chutneys and the unlikely, but surprisingly successful, ‘green tomato mincemeat’. The author is a historian so indulges in historical illustrations and bits of poetry and ‘some recipes which were popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ which are ‘extremely tedious to make’. I won’t be trying those then.
Between them, these books usually supply my need for apple recipes. But this year I have a new challenge. A weekend away with the assistant gardeners and my enthusiastic wild-fruit-picking and jam-making mother produced three bags of wild crab apples. What on earth to do with these? The obvious answer is crab apple jelly Here I have to turn to The Hedgerow Harvest by Jan Orchard (The Crowood Press, 1988), which helpfully describes crab apples as ‘small, hard and excruciatingly sour’ and provides recipes for crab apple jelly and crab apple chutney.
I have less than happy memories of trying to make crab apple jelly in a tiny kitchen with small children and a rampant cat many years ago. I spent most of the time keeping the toddlers and the cat away from the jelly bag and it resulted in one tiny pot of quite nice jelly. It really wasn’t worth it. So this time the assistants had the idea of juicing the apples instead of cooking them. This produced a good amount of juice but, after a very long time boiling it up with sugar, we now have 3 jars of what can only be described as crab apple syrup. It’s a lovely colour but is still excruciatingly sour. We tried it on ice cream and perhaps that is the best use for it. The only trouble is we still have two bags of apples to get through… and I’ve run out of jam jars.