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.
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 and it takes hardly any time to scoop up a good quantity of crab apples. A quick dunk in water gets rid of any grass or leaves. With my crab apples gathered, I set to work …
Take 3 kg of Crab Apples
The first thing I always do with the crab apple harvest is to make Sweet Spiced Crab Apples, which make a perfect accompaniment to cheese and cold meats at Christmas time, when they’ve developed to perfection.
Sweet Spiced Crab Apples
Take 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
Add a cinnamon stick and a teaspoon each of ground ginger and cloves.
Stir to dissolve the sugar, simmer until the apples are just soft but still in one piece and then transfer the apples to sterilised jars, leaving the liquid in the pan.
Remove the cloves 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.
The remaining crab apples were heated and strained to extract the juice.
Make the crab apple liquid base
The original 2.5kg of crab apples yielded almost five litres of crab apple liquid, so you may want to reduce the amount if you don’t plan to try everything.
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
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…
… 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 …
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.
Read these tips for printing with fruit and vegetables.