Appley Autumn

When I bought my first house, one of the things that sold it to me was the lovely old Bramley apple tree in the back garden. It was such a thrill to pick my own fruit, share it with the neighbours and turn the rest into puddings or jam – you’ll find a couple of my favourite-ever apple recipes down below. So it came as quite a shock when I later discovered from my gardener husband that some of his clients with fruit trees think they’re just a nuisance, and never pick, eat or cook their beautiful crops of apples, pears and plums. Neither (or so it seems, looking round) do folk bother picking from the many self-set apple and other fruit trees in our local hedgerows and woods… so every year, countless tons of perfectly edible, lovely fruit is either dumped, or left to rot where it falls. It seems almost criminal to me, in these days when spiralling living costs are forcing so many people into food-poverty and reliance on charity food banks.

The waste is particularly painful this year, because it’s been such a bumper season for English apples. Here in ‘Helmickton’, we’re extremely wealthy in them, both from our own little trees and from the wonderful largesse pressed upon us by Hubcap’s clients. So we’ve been doing our best to make the most of them: squashing them down into juice for the freezer or to brew gallons of cider, making pounds of preserves, eating them fresh, stewed or in puds… and since my latest apple crumble was so special, I’d like to share it with you.

Yes – we were lucky enough to be given several pounds of heritage apples by Laura Charles, landlady of The Crooked Billet pub, one of our favourite watering-holes and eateries just outside Saxton in North Yorkshire on the edge of Towton battlefield. The Billet’s back field is blessed with two ancient, and now very rare, apple trees: a Transparente de Croncels, developed by the French horticulturalists Charles and Ernest Baltet in 1869; and the even older Yorkshire Greening, (or ‘Yorkshire Goose-sauce’) first listed in a 1769 catalogue by the Pontefract nurseryman William Perfect. Both varieties are excellent for preserves, apple sauce to accompany roast meats, and cooked desserts – as I can vouch, having just tried Yorkshire Greening in probably the best apple crumble I’ve ever made!

So if you happen to be in the Saxton area, you could pop into The Crooked Billet to sample this true ‘taste of history’ on the menu – and on the way out, help yourself to some of the apples Laura’s generously provided for customers to try. Then you might fancy having a go at my more interesting version of the standard crumble recipe; the topping turns out deliciously light, toasty and more wholesome than those made just with white flour, the honey gives good flavour, and the dried fruit adds a tasty darker note to the filling. If you can get them, Yorkshire Greening apples are especially good, cooking down to a fine-textured pulp with an intense apple zing and just the right amount of acidity – but bog standard Bramleys would work nearly as well, if you can’t make it to the Billet!

Helen’s Interesting Apple Crumble: Costs about £2 (less if the apples are free!) and gives 4 BIG portions or 6 – 8 polite ones

For the Topping: 2 oz wholemeal flour, 1 oz white self-raising flour, 1 oz porridge oats, 2 oz butter or baking marg, 2 oz sugar
For the Filling: 1 lb Yorkshire Greening or other cooking apples, 2 oz raisins, 2 generous dessert spoons of runny honey (use more if your apples are very tart), powdered cinnamon to taste
Method: Put flour/oats in a mixing bowl, add the fat cut into small chunks and rub it in well, add sugar and stir all together. Peel the apples and slice half of them into an ovenproof dish; sprinkle on half the raisins, 1 spoonful of honey and a good shake of cinnamon; then repeat with the rest of the fruits/honey/cinnamon. Cover with the topping and pat it down well with fingertips or fork, then bake in an oven pre-heated to 190 degrees C, 375 degrees F or Gas Mark 5 for about 30 minutes, until the fruit’s cooked and the top toasty golden brown. Serve hot or cold – it’s delicious either way!

Finally, if your autumn is being as appley as ours, you can use up lots making this marvellous, very easy preserve – it’s great as a jam, but I think it works equally well as a sweet chutney to have with cheese or cold meat:

Helen’s Spiced Apple Preserve:

Ingredients: cooking apples, sugar, spices (any combination of powdered cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg)
Method: Peel the apples and chop the flesh, discarding cores and any bruised bits. Simmer gently to a pulp in a preserving pan, adding a little water and stirring occasionally to prevent burning; then measure the quantity, and make your preserve using 1lb sugar per pint of pulp. Put the pulp and sugar in the preserving pan and stir, heating gently, until the sugar is dissolved, then spice to taste (you can also add a goodly shot of booze at this point, if you want to make Brandied Spiced Apple!). Bring to the boil and cook to setting point (it’ll lose about half its volume and go a lovely dark caramel colour), then pour into sterilised jars. Yum!

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