Saturday, 9 November 2013

An Apple A Day

Hello webby mates!
My house smells of apples. Our lovely next door neighbours have two big and ancient apple trees in their garden that have reacted to a warm and lovely summer by producing enough fruit to keep the doctor away for a year or five. Unable to use all those apples, they gave great heaping bags of them to me.

I've had a great day this week being a one woman apple processing unit. It could have been a tedious task, peeling and chopping 10 kilos of apples in one sitting, but with a bit of forethought it became a lovely, indulgent day. Seriously, it did. I'm not putting a brave face on it or anything.

The trick is to set up your workstation.  I put a plastic bin - one of those trofast things from IKEA that was holding Duplo until I sold it a fortnight ago - in front of the couch in the living room. I put a large stock pot with water and a slosh of lemon juice on the coffee table. A cutting board, a knife, a peeler and the TV remote and I was good to go.

While I peeled away, the bin neatly catching all the mess and the lemon water stopping the apples turning brown, I watched the first three episodes of The Blacklist. That's an entirely daft series with James Spader clearly having a ball as a charming, immoral master criminal helping the FBI. He is very fun to watch.

Peeling completed, I shoved the trofast tub out of the way and chopped the apples to an accompaniment of Masterchef and The Choir on iPlayer. I think the BBC's iPlayer is God's gift to the modern age.

I took my chopped apples into the kitchen, popped on 6Music on the radio and got to the fun bit - cooking!

I washed some empty jars and popped them in the oven at 150 degrees to sterilise while I made a compote of apples with brown sugar and cinnamon and a huge vat of applesauce.

I'd like to give you a recipe but in all truthfulness there isn't one - the apples can vary so much in sweetness that giving amounts is pretty meaningless. I plopped a saucepan full of apples and a splash of water on the hob, tipped in a cup of brown sugar, a couple of strips of lemon zest and a cinnamon stick. I stirred frequently until it was all cooked. I tasted it, added a dash more sugar and removed the cinnamon and lemon peel, cooked it through for another 2 minutes and it was done.

The applesauce was the same but larger quantities - a stock pot full of apple, a splash of water, a generous couple of handfuls of caster sugar and stir well until cooked. Add more sugar to taste as you go. I like my spiced compote rather sharp and my applesauce sweet, but it is entirely personal preference. Just taste it as it cooks and remember it's easy to add more sugar but a bit of a bugger to try and remove it.

I ought to mention that applesauce or compote does not keep like jam. It's the high sugar content of jam that preserves it for so long. Applesauce has a mere fraction of that. I keep it in the fridge because I know I use it up pretty quickly (I can eat it by the bowlful. It reminds me of being a kid and Canada.) If you are not likely to be using it in the next couple of weeks I recommend freezing it in zip lock bags. It can keep for ages then.

Once the sauce and compote were bottled up I turned the oven up to 180 and made four of Riet's Dutch Apple Cake. I posted the recipe here in 2009, and these days I do make it in loaf tins after all. I can fit four of them in the oven at a time so I'm making maximum use of 1 hour of the oven being on, and the cake freezes well. So, one cake to the neighbours to thank them for the apples and the others popped away for later.

By this point I decided I needed some different entertainment. I swapped to my ipod and sang along to Tom Petty. The wonderful Tom is my go-to guy for songs to work to. I have decorated whole rooms to Full Moon Fever. It is one of my favourite albums in the world. I tend to favour stuff I can sing along with other music. It's just more fun. Although not necessarily for anyone within earshot.

As a treat for my lovely 11 year old I used some of the compote in lieu of jam to make Jam Jacks, our name for Mary-Anne Boerman's Crunchy Oat Slices. I find them a bit too prone to falling apart but that could be me not doing them quite as intended. However fragile they end up, they are definitely delicious.

Of course you can't bake with masses of apples without doing a crumble. It's probably a Law. Ever the law-abiding citizen, I made three - one for the freezer for my parents, one for the neighbour on the other side of our house and one for us.

My New Favourite Thing for apple crumble is to chuck a few fistfuls of pecans in the crumble mix. Apples and pecans are such happy bedfellows. The flavours round each other out, adding a depth and fullness lacking when it's just one or the other. I often experience tastes like they were music, and a good combination is like a wonderful chord as opposed to an individual note. Pecans and apples are a lovely chord.

NB - Other people do that too, right? I assume they do but perhaps they don't. It's like being unhappy in an orange room because it is yelling at you or knowing which numbers are friendly (the seven times tables definitely are, the sixes less so). Everyone is a little bit synaesthetic, aren't they?

My final effort - to The Leisure Society's marvellous album The Sleeper - was to start another batch of bramble jelly. This is 1 kilo of blackberries (from the freezer, as swapped for eggs with another neighbour in September), 1 kilo of apples roughly chopped but not peeled nor cored, an a little over a litre of water. I simmered them all together until they were a total mush ready for straining then boiling up with sugar. I do love the rich purple colour, and how the stained apple chunks look like watermelons with their vivid flesh and green skin.

Anyway, at the end of my own personal Apple Day I had 4 jars of compote, 2 massive ones of applesauce, 4 cakes, 3 crumbles, a tray of slices and a vat of jelly-in-progress.  I'd watched daft telly, listened to the radio, sung lustily along with some favourites and made the house smell utterly delicious.
All in all, a very good day.


  1. Ma Ingalls had nothing on you...

  2. Sounds wonderful! Was this all with eaters? Or cookers?

    1. They were a mix of both. Cookers hold their shape better but eaters work too