As we approach the end of a long, hot summer, most fruit and vegetables are becoming ripe a good few weeks earlier than usual.
So, slightly ahead of schedule, I’ve been busy trying to preserve as much as possible for what threatens to be a tough winter. I have no idea if the cost of power will make some of my annual preserving recipes unaffordable next year, so I’m making a wide range of chutneys, wines and jams while we are still on an old tariff.
In our new home, we are lucky enough to have two old apple trees in the garden. As I might have mentioned before I’m a teensy bit obsessed with apple trees, so I have a fair few reference books to help me identify different varieties.
I’ve discovered the largest and most healthy tree is a Reverend W. Wilks, which is an early season cooking apple. Unlike the classic Bramley these apples are sweeter, which means I don’t need to use as much sugar in any recipe I add them to.
The fruit on my street is abundant, especially with the weather we’ve had. Our neighbours didn’t mind us harvesting some of the fruit, so we got the step-ladders out and filled our wheelbarrow.
The crab apples were particularly bountiful. They’re one of my favourite fruits and contain vitamin C, calcium and iron, plus a whole host of other wonderful vitamins and minerals. Sometimes I use crab apples with berries to make cordial, but there’s nothing to beat the fabulous flavour of crab apple jelly. It’s delicious on toast and makes a tasty addition to savoury flavours like game, pork pies or cheese. If you want to make your own, take a look at my recipe below.
2 kg crab apples (you can make the weight up with any windfall apple if you don’t have enough crab apples)
2 litres of water
1-3 cloves depending on personal preference
400g of sugar to every pint of sieved liquid
Wash the apples in cold water and then cut them into four and try to remove as many pips as possible. Put all the fruit, cloves and water into the pan and begin to boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down and simmer slowly for at least 20 minutes, and mash the fruit with a potato masher to release as much juice as possible.
When the fruit has broken down, sieve the pan contents through a muslin cloth and a colander. This will take up to 24 hours to completely drip through, so it is best to leave it covered overnight. The following day you can squeeze the contents of the muslin to get the last juice out. Measure the liquid and then reheat it. Once boiling, add 400g of sugar to every pint of liquid. Once you have reached the setting point, pour into sterilised jars, seal, label and store in a cool dark cupboard. This is ready to eat straightaway but should last at least eight months in storage.
Apples, apples everywhere
In my last house, apples of every kind were hard to get hold of. I’d usually barter to get just enough to be able to make what I wanted, but I was often short. Southport, where I live now, seems to have apple trees everywhere. I haven’t got enough time to use them all, especially when this house has apple trees too. At the moment, the back lawn seems permanently covered with windfall, but they are not the only things to be plentiful this year.
The greenhouse has enabled me to grow tomatoes. Unfortunately, the extreme heat has meant that the fruit hasn’t really grown to full size, but the plants have been massive and heavily laden with tomatoes. One morning I discovered that, despite support, two of these behemoth plants had collapsed under their own weight during the night. The stalks had snapped but there was more than a kilo of green tomatoes on the broken plants. Not wanting to waste anything, I decided to combine them with my ripe tomatoes and the Rev W. Wilks apples from the garden to make a chutney.
1.5–2kg of green and red tomatoes, washed and chopped
1 kg of apples peeled, cored and chopped
1 big onion, finely chopped
200g of dried raisins or sultanas, chopped
250g of soft brown sugar – you can use less if your apples are sweet
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Two big pinches of freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch of salt
1 tbsp of fresh ginger or 1 ½tsp of dried ginger
1 tsp allspice
2 cloves (optional)
Between 350 and 500ml apple cider vinegar or other good vinegar (quantity depends on how juicy the apples are but I used 350ml in mine)
Pre-sterilise your jars. Put all the ingredients into your jam pan and simmer for at least half an hour. The tomatoes break up quite quickly so there is no need to boil for hours like some chutney recipes. Once the ingredients have broken down and look suitably chutney-like, pop into the sterilised jars. Put a jam disc in each jar and, once cooled, screw on the lid and label.
Even after making chutney we still have masses of garden apples ripe and ready to use. About two weeks ago, on a walk through local woods, we found a couple of kilos of juicy brambles and so we picked them and popped them in the freezer. We’ve made bramble and apple wine in the past and it is one of my partner’s favourites so we decided to make a batch.
Bramble and apple wine percolates quite quickly (generally in four months) so if you make it now it should be ready by Christmas or New Year at the latest. It doesn’t taste like a fruit wine at all, instead closely resembling Beaujolais which is why it’s popular with everyone who’s tasted it. I’ve shared the basics of wine-making before, but here’s how we made the wine.
Recipe: Bramble and Apple Wine
1kg apples, washed, cored and chopped
1.5kg brambles, rinsed
1.5 kg sugar
4 litres of water
1 sachet of wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
½ campden tablet
(If you want to make more than one demi-john of wine, multiply the ingredients accordingly)
Put the chopped apples, brambles and water into a large jam pan and boil until the fruit softens. Once the apple starts to cook away from the peel, turn the heat off and mash the mixture with a potato masher to release more of the juice. Once mashed, boil the liquid again and add in the sugar. As soon as the sugar has thoroughly dissolved, remove from the heat. Pour the liquid out of the jam pan and into a sterilised bucket. Cover the top of the bucket with a clean muslin cloth secured with a rubber band to stop fruit flies getting in. Then leave it to cool – this can take a few hours.
Once the mixture (wine must) has cooled to 21 degrees, sprinkle yeast and yeast nutrient over the top of the liquid, then re-cover securely. Place the wine must bucket somewhere warm and dark – an airing cupboard is perfect. If you only have a sunny room, place the bucket under a cardboard box to create shade as the sunlight can ruin the wine. Leave the must like this for at least five days to ferment, stirring daily with a sterilised spoon. After this, drain the liquid through a cheesecloth into a sterilised bowl, then decant the strained must liquid into a sterilised demi-john. Add half a Campden tablet then fit a bung and an air lock and leave for at least two months in a warm, dark place.
This is quite a lively wine so make sure it’s finished bubbling through the air lock before you rack off. Once racked off, move the demi-johns into a cold, dark place to help it clear. If the wine has stopped bubbling through the airlock after four months, it is fine to bottle and drink. If it still tastes a bit ‘fermenty’, leave it another month before drinking.
Preserve, preserve, preserve
My jam pan was a gift from a neighbour, and even the jars and bottles I use were given to me. What I’m trying to say is, you don’t need to spend a fortune buying brand-new equipment to get started. Put a post up on your local Freecycle page asking for what you need. Or check current listings, there’s usually someone getting rid of winemaking stuff but sometimes there are jars, free fruit and the occasional jam pan.
As much fun as all this preserving and wine-making is, it’s also been flipping hard work. For the last two weekends I’ve been chopping and boiling for hours. But with the price of food skyrocketing, it seems incredibly wasteful not to use all of this wonderful free produce. I know I will be glad I did all this hard work in a few months’ time. Nutritionally, it is packed with vitamins and minerals which will help us to stay healthy over winter.
It’s strange, but as the times have changed over the last decade, my attitude to foraging has shifted as well. I never imagined all those years ago that my waste not, want not attitude would go from being a hobby to a necessity.
Words and images by Claire Fleetneedle