When we returned from what was a great weekend at Electric Picnic a couple of weeks ago, I went out to our precious apple trees which we planted a couple of years ago to take a look at the fruit which we had been excitedly watching grow for the first time. From the 20 or so little trees that were proudly bearing fruit, I had been dreaming about making, and storing for the year ahead, delicious pots of chutneys and relishes, and fantasising about home-grown-apple crumbles with homemade custard for Sunday lunches.
So imagine my surprise when I saw that every single piece of fruit was gone... totally disappeared! Ok, maybe I am exaggerating to say that I was devastated, but I was so disappointed as those trees were the first edible plants that we had planted since moving into our new home and I had dreamed up all sorts of romantic images of me in my pinny stirring big pots of sweet and spicy chutney, which would probably then be given away for Christmas presents.
So now I will resort to picking the apples off friends' and families' well-established trees, and while the results will be just as good, they won't have that sweet taste of 'our' apples.
We bought our small apple trees from the The Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA ? irishseedsaversassociation.ie), who in the early '90s set about collecting the seeds of literally hundreds of delicious heirloom apple varieties that were about to be lost completely, largely due to the fact that other apple varieties, such as Granny Smith and Golden Delicious lasted for longer in shipping and storing. The ISSA has saved many varieties from disappearing by planting orchards and orchards of the trees. They can advise you on which varieties would be best suited in your particular area or climate. From the delicious Irish Peach to the beautifully blossoming April Queen to the wind-resistant Uncle John's Cooker, you'll be spoilt for choice.
» quick spice apple sauce
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
2 tbsp water
2-3 tbsp caster sugar
1 small (about 4cm in length) cinnamon stick
½ tsp crushed dried chillies
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Place all the ingredients together in a small pan with the lid on and cook over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the apple has reduced to a thick pulp. Taste and add more sugar or even a little squeeze of lemon juice if necessary.
» Classic apple chutney
Avoid the last-minute Christmas rush and panic. If you make a few batches of this in the next month or two, the chutney will be perfectly ripe in time to give to some lucky people for presents.
1½ kg cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into large chunks
750g light brown sugar
700ml cider vinegar
500g raisins or sultanas
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp black or white mustard seeds
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring up to the boil. Simmer, uncovered, stirring regularly for about 45 minutes to one hour until the chutney is thick and pulpy. Allow to slightly cool, then transfer into clean sterilised jars and cover with lids. Store in a cool place. This will be mellow enough to eat in a couple of weeks.
» baked apples with calvados custard
This delicious recipe is from 'Market Kitchen's' Matt Tebbutt's new cookbook, 'Matt Tebbutt Cooks Country'.
200g caster sugar
Calvados, to taste
4 eating apples, such as Cox's Pippins
1 small jar best-quality mincemeat
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
6 medium egg yolks
120g caster sugar
Calvados, to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C/ Gas Mark 4. Start by making a caramel. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Continue to boil until nicely caramelised and a dark caramel colour. Stop the caramel cooking by adding a drop of Calvados once it is ready. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Core the apples and run a knife around the middle to allow for expansion. Stuff with the mincemeat. Baste in the caramel and bake in the pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes, until the apples are cooked.
Meanwhile, make the custard. Heat the milk and vanilla together in a saucepan to infuse. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until pale, then pour the warm milk on to the yolks, stirring all the time.
Put the custard back into the pan on a low heat and cook very gently for about five to six minutes, stirring all the time, until it thickens. Add a splash of Calvados to taste and keep warm. Serve the baked apples with the Calvados Custard.
» toffee apple pudding
This is comfort food at its best. Forget the diet for a day and go for a walk tomorrow, or whatever you need to do to not feel guilty about eating this – it will be worth it.
A little plain flour, for dusting
6 tbsp golden syrup
4 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into cubes about 1cm square
110g caster sugar
The finely grated zest of one lemon
2 eggs, beaten
125g self raising flour
4 tbsp milk
Butter and lightly flour a 1.2-litre pudding bowl (plastic or ceramic). Melt 4 tbsp of the golden syrup with 25g of the butter in a frying pan and let everything bubble together for a couple of minutes, then add the chopped apple and cook for a further five minutes.
Beat together the remaining butter, the caster sugar and the lemon zest in a large bowl until pale and fluffy (you can use an electric beater). Beat in the eggs, one by one, the self-raising flour and the milk, then stir in the rest of the golden syrup.
Put the toffee apple mixture into the pudding bowl and spoon the flour mix over this. Cover with a double piece of greaseproof paper or tin foil with a pleat across the centre. Tie on firmly with a piece of string. Cook in a steamer over simmering water (or sitting on an upturned saucer placed in the centre of in a deep saucepan half-filled with water) for about one-and-a-half to two hours. Top up with more boiling water if any of it evaporates. The pudding is cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Turn out onto a plate, scooping up any leftover apple in the bowl. Serve preferably warm with whipped cream or some custard.
» Upside-down apple & cinnamon cake
50g (½ stick) butter
150g (¾ cup) brown sugar
3 eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced 5mm thick
200g (2 cups) plain flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs, organic and free-range if possible
200ml (1 cup) buttermilk
75ml (½ cup) vegetable or sunflower oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Melt the butter in a medium-sized oven-proof frying pan (measuring 25cm in diameter). Stir in half the sugar and cook over a gentle heat for about five minutes. Add the apple – there's no need to stir – and remove from the heat and set aside.
Sieve the flour, baking powder, salt, bicarbonate of soda and ground cinnamon into a bowl. Whisk the eggs in a measuring jug or small bowl and add the remaining sugar, buttermilk and oil. Mix together, then pour into the dry ingredients and whisk to combine into a liquid batter. Pour this over the apple in the pan. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake feels firm in the centre.
Cool for five minutes before turning out onto a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature with softly whipped cream.
* Apple goes so well with toffee, caramel and of course spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and even nutmeg. Add a pinch of your chosen spice into a crumble, pie or even apple sauce.
* For a quick apple sauce to serve with roast pork, duck or goose, just peel and roughly chop a cooking apple (for a fluffy light texture) such as Bramley or Uncle John's Cooker,
and place in a small saucepan with a small splash of water, some sugar and lemon juice to taste. Simmer for about five to eight minutes with the lid on until the apple is soft.
* To make a quick Apple Fool using leftover apple sauce, gently fold it with some lightly whipped cream and a little beaten egg white, and a bit of sugar and lemon juice to taste, and serve in glasses with some little shortbread biscuits on the side.
*Calvados, the delicious apple brandy, just loves being added into some whipped cream with a little icing sugar, to serve with any kind of apple dessert for a dinner party.