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. The variety is 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. 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.
My first recipe is for one that you can use the apples for right now. Crisp pastry, and the apples candied and studded into a hazelnut frangipane filling. Add some fresh apple for a flavour and texture contrast.
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. Last year I made Elderberry gin by combining six heads of elderberries, 500g sugar and 1 litre of gin in a kilner jar. Shake twice a day for a week and then allow to infuse for six weeks. Strain and bottle the gin. The gin soaked elderberries are perfect added to game dishes.
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. Add hot water and a slice of lemon for a warming hot drink or mix with soda and orange for a refreshing chilled one.