Take 3kg of crab apples

crab apple tree

Walk along the footpath around Lakes Field and each wild apple and crab apple tree is marked by a scattering of apples across the path. Each tree produces a slightly different fruit; from tiny conker sized apples to ones the size of a Cox with colours ranging from sour looking green to acidic yellow, some tinged with orange and others speckled with brown. The one thing they have in common is that they are sour, some eye wateringly so. If we make cider, I pick up some of these apples, but mostly I rearrange them into lines and little piles along the pathway. Unfortunately, nobody else realises they’re artistic installations and soon they’re trampled underfoot or kicked aside and gradually rot away.

In the garden, I find it almost impossible to let fruit and vegetables go to waste, though I make an exception for courgettes which I cut off and lob onto the compost heap when they grow to the size of a small airships. Hence, we are still eating raspberries nearly every day, though the end is in sight.

However, I’ve come to accept trees as a wonderfully decorative part of the garden whose fruit are a bonus, not the raison d’être. Indeed, our crab apple tree was planted as a decorative tree long before we came here, with no thought of doing any more than admiring the glorious blossom and orange blushed fruits. Even so, it would be a shame to leave all the fruit to rot, especially as there’s such a thick carpet of crab apples under the tree.

crab apples under the tree

The easiest way to pick crab apples is to scoop them from the ground as they’re certain to be ripe. The trick is to work methodically, so that you don’t tread on the fruit before you get to it. A quick dunk in water gets rid of any grass or leaves.

This year, rather than try to make as many things to eat or drink with the fruits and berries that I pick, I’ve been investigating other uses. After all, there’s only so much jam we can eat in a year.

In just a few minutes, I scooped up 3kg of crab apples and set to work. These crab apples yielded about five litres of crab apple liquid, so you may want to reduce the amount if you don’t plan to try everything.

Make the crab apple liquid base

First of all, put the crab apples into a preserving pan and cover with water. If they’re large crab apples you may need to cut them in half.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until they’re soft. Press the soft apples against the side of the pan to break them down and then tip the whole lot into a suspended jelly bag and leave to strain overnight.

 

Make Crab Apple Syrup

Dilute this syrup with sparkling water or add hot water and a squeeze of lemon juice for a warming winter drink.

Pour 500ml of strained crab apple liquid into a saucepan with 400g sugar. Add a clove and a small piece of cinnamon stick to make a slightly spiced syrup but remember to extract it before you bottle. Heat slowly to dissolve the sugar and then boil for 3 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly and pour into sterilised bottles.

Make Herb Jelly

Crab apple and herb jelly

Use mint, sage or rosemary to make a herb flecked jelly to serve with meat or leave out the herbs and spread the jelly on bread or scones.

Proceed as for Crab Apple Syrup but add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and boil for 5 minutes.

Stir in 3 – 4 tablespoons of chopped herbs, depending on how herby you want your jelly to be. Boil for another minute. Check for set and pour into clean, hot jars.

Make Crab Apple Pectin

This home-made pectin is a useful alternative to commercial liquid pectin and doesn’t need special recipes with reduced boiling times.  I freeze home-made pectin in 100ml containers as that amount works perfectly with recipes such as Rose Petal Jam, which is what I mostly use it for.

Pour 600 ml strained crab apple liquid into a saucepan and boil for 3 minutes. Check the pectin strength using Celia’s instructions. Boil for longer if you think you need a firmer set.
Put into small containers and freeze when cold.

And still there was some crab apple liquid left…

wool dyed with crab apples

 

… so I poured it into the dye pot and added some wool; one skein was mordanted with alum and the other bramble. They were simmered for an hour and left to cool. Next day, I had one skein of beige wool and one of apricot beige so I soaked them in a water and vinegar solution to see if that would make them pinker. It made absolutely no difference. I rinsed them and then added them to a wood ash water solution, which turned them yellower. Not perhaps the shade I’d choose to knit a jumper, but useful in patterning or for a striped hat.

 

And finally …

fabric printed with crab apples

 

A few crab apples that didn’t make it into the saucepan were used to hand print some fabric. Why go to the hassle of carving lino blocks or drawing stencils when you can just cut a fruit or vegetable, dab on some fabric paint and print away? This fabric will probably be used to make a little zippered bag as that’s my current sewing craze.

Next to make:

Tomato & Chilli Jelly

Sweet Spiced Crab Apples

Probably. Possibly. Depending on the weather. It is unseasonably hot and not the weather for standing at the stove.

Save

blackberries in hedge

Simple Pleasures | September

I love these late summer days.

No matter how many decades it is since I left school, each September I still feel that sense of sadness that summer is ending, tinged with the anticipation of a new term. I may not need new shoes or feel the need to sharpen and organise the crayons in my pencil case, but it’s the start of the netball season*, there are classes to resume and new activities to take up while on the farm the ground is prepared and the seeds sown for next year’s harvest.

There are so many simple pleasures to be had in September.

Enjoying

hedgerow berries

Every day as I walk through the fields, I notice another change as we move closer to autumn. The colours of sun-bleached August are giving way to autumnal hues as brown earth replaces the wheat stubble and the hedges fill with orange, red and purple berries.

I’d enjoy it even more if we had some rain.

Picking

In the garden we’re picking the last of the raspberries and the first of the Discovery apples. In the fields, the blackberries are now ripe for snatching a handful on a walk or filling a container to bring home.

Eating

We’re still eating fresh vegetables from the garden every day. Supermarkets may try to connect with our hunter gatherer instincts by offering us loose vegetables to pick into our trolleys, but nothing beats the satisfaction of pushing a fork into the soil to prise out a handful of carrots. Even if they aren’t perfect.

 

Making

natural dyeing with blackberries

Last year I tried dyeing with many different plants and produced an amazing range of beige. Unfortunately, I was usually aiming for yellow, orange or pink. This year I’ve tried to reproduce some of last year’s more successful colourings. Above are blackberry, feverfew, blackberry with wood ash water modifier, brambles and walnut husk. Blackberry dyed yarn is well-known for not being colour fast; some of last year’s faded to a rather beautiful silvery grey, though one batch is still a dusky purple. As I only use this wool for knitting hats and the like, I don’t mind the colour change and rather enjoy watching the decline.

Anticipating

blackberries

Later this month, Ruth and I are holding a Blackberry Day when people can pick blackberries from the fields and bring them back to The Barley Barn where we’ll use them for dyeing and jelly printing. We’ll make blackberry vinegar, eat blackberry cake and I’m sure we’ll have time for a little Blackberry Gin tasting too.

 

Do you like September? What are your simple pleasures

*I have slowed down to walking netball, which (the way we play, though I cannot vouch for other more elderly teams) is much faster and more competitive than you might imagine. It’s also tremendous fun.

raspberries

Desire, Fulfilment and Surfeit

When you grow and eat your own fruit and vegetables, the natural progression through nurture, harvest and glut in the garden is matched by desire, fulfilment and surfeit in the kitchen.

raspberries ripening

Take our autumn-fruiting raspberries. The canes are cut back to ground level in winter and then we watch as they grow tall and leafy though spring and summer. White flowers appear and the tiny fruits swell and slowly change colour until, at last, in the heat of a summer day we spot a flash of crimson amongst the green foliage and triumphantly pick the first raspberry of the season.

For the first few days, we barely pick enough to fill a small dish but soon there’s raspberries galore. We eat them every day for pudding, sprinkle them on our breakfast and drop them into cocktails. Then one day I hear a sigh around the table as I plonk down another bowl of raspberries, so I scour my recipes for different ways to use them. Raspberries are added to cakes with gay abandon and we eat Lemon Surprise Pudding (the surprise being it’s Raspberry Pudding not Lemon). Visitors are pressed to take a container filled with raspberries home with them.

With raspberries still ripening thick and fast outside, it’s time to start preserving. A few raspberries are frozen, a couple of bottles of Raspberry Cordial are stored away and I make raspberry jam, though not in vast quantities as we barely eat a jar of jam a month.

raspberry vinegar

Last of all, I make a few bottles of Raspberry Vinegar. The original recipe I followed was sweet, perhaps because they suggested serving it over ice cream or diluting it with lemonade or soda water. But, guess what. I never drizzle it over vanilla ice cream and I don’t enjoy it diluted with lemonade, so over the years, I’ve reduced the sugar.

Raspberry Vinegar is supremely easy to make. Roughly crush about 500g of raspberries in a glass jar (I use my spurtle to crush), tip in 500ml of white wine vinegar, give it a stir and leave for two or three days. Sieve out the raspberry grunge and put the bright red vinegar into a saucepan with 100g of granulated sugar. Bring to the boil, simmer for ten minutes, skim off any scum and leave to cool a little. Pour into sterilised bottles and store somewhere cool and dark.

bacon salad recipe

Raspberry Vinegar seems such a throwback to the 1980s that I often feel the need to partner it with a suitably retro recipe like bacon salad. Otherwise, use it for dressings and marinades or to add a bit of oomph to casseroles. Dilute it with a little hot water to ease a sore throat; it’s eye watering but at least you momentarily forget how sore your throat was before. Drizzle over ice cream, if that’s your thing.

But, I digress. When we cannot face another bowl of raspberries and I’ve preserved all that I need, I pick the remaining raspberries in the garden and hand them over to Beth so that she can make them into Raspberry Gin, which is the very best way of preserving raspberries.

As the raspberries near the end of fruiting, do I miss them? No, of course not. I’ve been watching the greengages ripen and for the past few days, every time I’ve walked past the tree I’ve snatched a handful of those yellow green orbs of ambrosial deliciousness. Surely I could never tire of such a treat …