crab apples

crab apples collected from Lakes Field

A selection of crab apples picked up from Lakes Field this morning. The hedge around the field contains several crab apple trees and I often wonder why they grow there and nowhere else on the farm. Perhaps they were part of a homestead at one time for certainly old maps show buildings further down the track from the main farm or maybe the trees have sprung from apple cores thrown away by labourers years ago as they worked in the fields. Who knows?

At this time of year, the apples drop from the tree and litter the ground underneath. The tiny green crab apples look particularly unappealing and even though the larger ones with their orange blushed skins look as though they might provide a sweet mouthful of flesh, experience tell me that it isn’t so. They are all very sharp. Although they might not be suitable for the fruit bowl, there’s still plenty to do with crab apples.

spiced crab apples

Top of my list every year is to make Sweet Spiced Crab Apples. Collect about 500g crab apples, wash them but don’t peel or core them, cut large ones in half and put them in a pan with vinegar and sugar at a rate of 1 part vinegar: 3 parts crab apple: 3 parts sugar with some ground ginger, cloves and cinnamon stick. Stir to dissolve the sugar, simmer until the apples are just soft but still in one piece and then transfer the apples to jars, leaving the liquid in the pan. Remove the clove and cinnamon stick, boil the syrup until it’s reduced by about half and then pour over the apples and seal the jars. Keep the crab apples for a couple of months before you use them, by which time the apples will have absorbed the syrup to make an almost candied fruit. You can see from the photo above that while the 2014 crab apples on the right are still whole, the 2013 apples have swollen with the syrup. We eat these with cold meats.

I usually make crab apple, tomato and chilli jelly but my tomatoes have come to a premature halt (apparently that’s what happens if you forget to water the plants in the greenhouse) but if you have a surplus of tomatoes and are wondering what to do with them, you could try the jelly recipe.

We mix crab apples with our eating and cooking apples to make a slightly tarter mix for cider making and last year I made a batch of crab apple pectin, which has been very useful for jam making this year. I’m toying with the idea of making Crab Apple Butter as I imagine that spreading toast with a spiced, fruity butter would be rather delicious. The problem is that as we don’t eat much jam or sweet spreads, I’m not sure it will all get used and I don’t want it to sit on the shelf gathering dust beside the elderly jars of Blackcurrant with Lavender Jam. I know what you’re thinking. Blackcurrant with lavender. Why? I thought it was an inspired combination but I was wrong and I should really just throw it out. But you never know, one day it may taste wonderful. Maybe not.

Do you make Apple Butter? Does it have another use apart from a spread? Please, do tell.

I came, I saw, I conkered

conkers from horse chestnut tree

Around the perimeter of our garden stand some huge horse chestnut trees that were probably planted a hundred years ago. From the kitchen table, we watch each year as the first green buds appear and the tree bursts into leaf and then the candle like spikes of blossom appear. Ignoring the lower branches where the leaves turn brown because the caterpillars of leaf-mining moth attack them, the trees in summer are a majestic sight providing shade and effectively screening that which lies behind.

Now that autumn is just around the corner, everything starts to drop from the horse chestnut trees. In the middle of the night, when all is quiet, conkers drop noisily onto the tin roof of the garage and bounce down. Walk under horse chestnut trees at this time of year and you’ll hear the thud as the conkers hit the grass. Just watch out that you don’t get hit on the head by a spiny cased conker plummeting downwards. Under the trees, conkers and their cases lie amongst the fallen leaves. Some cases fly open as they hit the ground, sending case and conker in opposite directions while others sit in the grass, slowly splitting to reveal the glossy mahogany coloured conker or sometimes two conkers inside.

Conkers can’t be eaten, they lose their shine almost overnight if you bring them inside and appear to have little practical use other than that for which they’re designed ie growing more horse chestnut trees. Some people swear that conkers placed strategically around a room prevent spiders or that a handful in your clothes will deter moths, but I’m not sure there’s any scientific evidence to back up these claims.

It seems that the only thing to do with conkers is to admire them where they fall or gather up a few and spend the evenings dangling a conker on the end of a piece of string while someone else tries to bash the hell out of it. I had hoped to show you my “conquering conker” (a 2-er because it had beaten two others) but Bill smashed it to smithereens last night. Never fear, I have another one ready to string up for tonight’s return match.

We country folk have simple pleasures.

You can find a detailed explanation of playing conkers here

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