There is nothing better than biting into a luscious, freshly picked apple

editorial image

The apple tree in my garden is a mass of ruby red fruit – all different shapes and sizes, the way nature intended. Is there anything better than picking an apple from its branch, taking in the sweet, fragrant scent and biting into luscious, chin dribbling flesh?

The first thing that strikes you is the weight of the apple – light and bouncy and not heavily laden with gas flushing and heavy duty warehouse chilling.

Thanks to gardener extraordinaire Jilly Dougan, my variety has been identified as Discovery.

When you cut into the fruit, the pearly white flesh is mottled with dreamy, pink streaks.

It’s clean tasting, crisp, zingy and delicious. My current dilemma is how to preserve the fruit for the coming months. Sweet eating apples don’t lend themselves to jelly – too much water content. There are only so many desserts you can make! Check out Radio Ulster and The John Toal Show website (from 1st October) for my recipe for apple and frangipane tart. Ready made puff pastry is topped with a buttery almond paste, layered with thin slices of apples and baked. John had four slices – in his defence it was before lunch…

A traditional New England way of capturing the essence of apple for the leaner months was to make apple molasses.

This method can be traced back to the 1600’s when sugar was a very expensive commodity. It adds a complex, almost spicy, element to baking.

It’s also a very effective way of transforming gallons of juice to more manageable amounts for storage.

To make apple molasses boil apple juice in a non-reactive saucepan, skimming occasionally, until the mixture thickens and has the consistency of maple syrup.

Store in a sterile jar and use in recipes instead of some of the sugar or honey.

I’m going to apologise in advance for my next suggestion – homemade mincemeat for Christmas mince pies.

It’s never too early to get the mincemeat going! I’ve included my recipe – leave out the alcohol if you wish. I promise that will be the last reference to the festive season before Advent.

Another abundance ready to be harvested now are the wonderful hedgerow elderberries. Branches are straining with clusters of their deep purple pellets.

The astringency of this berry makes it ideal for turning into jelly to accompany game and I’ve included a recipe for elderberry and port jelly.

Stir a generous tablespoon into roasting juices from duck or lamb to lift your gravy to new levels.

Elderberries are high in vitamins A. B and C and stimulate the immune system, making them perfect to ward off colds and flu.

You could spend a fortune buying elderberry supplements or more sensibly you could indulge in a free harvest and make your own elixir.

I can’t guarantee you won’t get the usual winter cold but it’s so packed with vitamins 
it won’t do you any harm trying.

On another equally healthy note, the Hans Sloane Chocolate and Fine Food Festival is running today, 24th September and tomorrow in the grounds of Killyleagh Castle.

There’ll be 15 chocolatiers attending and if that won’t banish any autumnal blues, nothing will!

My favourite way of eating chocolate is a couple of chunks savoured with espresso.

I’ve combined the two in a recipe for an indulgent hot drink, extra chocolate optional.