Thursday, 22 October 2009

Happy Apple Day!

I wasn't intending to blog today.  I still have an unfinished post awaiting completion so I didn't think I'd be writing a new one...  but when I found out that yesterday was officially Apple Day I thought that I needed to mark it in some way! 

This might not look like a particularly happy apple, but believe me I was happy when I found it; and the many others that were sitting in a box on a driveway with a plaintive 'Please help yourself' sign. 

I was even happier to put them to use in the kitchen, and today I have made the most of the first day of the half term holiday and used up all the apples that I have collected from the driveways of Buckinghamshire. 

My favourite thing to make is Apple Chilli Jelly.  It's SO easy, the apples don't even need to be peeled and cored!  The recipe I use can be found here, but please note that a chopped red chilli should be added to the apples as they are first boiled (this is mentioned in the comments section below the recipe, but not in the recipe itself).  I made a batch of this last year and we have really enjoyed eating it since then.  I like it with roast chicken, but it's particularly nice with a plain milky white cheese such as Lancashire, Cheshire or Wensleydale.  The pulp is currently suspended in a muslin bag over a bowl as the juice drips out.  I will make it into beautiful red-flecked jelly tomorrow.

Whilst that was underway I set to making my first batch of chutney.  The recipe is from a much-used, well-battered charity cookbook sold in aid of the Alphington Church (in Exeter, Devon) repair fund.  It's one of those lovely fundraising books which is clearly a product of a whole community.  I have several such recipe books as I can never resist buying them.  In this case, several celebrities had clearly been asked to contribute recipes, and this Apple Chutney recipe is credited to the actress Penelope Keith - who starred, appropriately, in the classic 1970s comedy about self-sufficiency The Good Life!  Chutney-making Penelope is clearly a world away from her snobbish character Margot though - this recipe is a winner.  So simple, and a perfect way of using up a glut of windfall apples.  Although peeling, coring and dicing 4lb of them is not much fun...

I had my annual oh-no-the-pan-isn't-big-enough panic as I piled in the ingredients, but after a short time the apples had cooked down and begun to turn pulpy.

3 and a half hours of simmering later and I was able to pot 8 jars of chutney, enough to see us through about 6 months of cheese-and-chutney sandwiches!  Last year I made 2 batches of this and we finished them over the summer.  I think I'll need to collect more apples soon and make another few jars.  It keeps so well.

It's also a great way of reusing all those jars which I can't stop myself saving...  I use the nicer ones for sweet  jams and jellies, but those with the lingering scent of something savoury - olives, capers, curry paste (?!) - I save for chutney figuring that it has such a strong vinegary flavour that it will cover up any other tastes.

The recipe is nothing new, nothing special, but if you want a really good 'basic' chutney then you can't go wrong with it:

Penelope Keith's Apple Chutney

4lb windfall apples, peeled, cored and roughly diced
1lb onions, chopped
1lb sultanas
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 pint malt vinegar
1lb soft brown sugar
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper

Put all ingredients into a pan.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 hours until dark brown.  (My note - from experience... Keep an eye on it for the last hour as it can stick and burn if left for too long at this point).  Pot whilst hot, in sterilised jars.

I hope you are enjoying apple season.  Excuse me while I clamber onto my soapbox, but I really really really resent the amount of apples that we import into this country.  Apples grow so well in England, and in such an abundance of varieties, that it seems so wrong to buy a bag of them that have been flown half way around the world.  I rarely buy apples in fact (as they are so easily available for free!), but whenever I do I carefully check the labels (so often designed it seems so that it's virtually impossible to find the country of origin...) and make sure that they are grown in the UK.  I've heard it called a mange-tout moment; you know, when you stand there in the produce section of a supermarket and realise that the small plastic-wrapped packet of veg you are about to throw into your trolley has actually come on a 10-hour flight from Kenya...  Well, have an 'apple moment' too!  Yes, I buy imported food - I'd find it hard to cook without such things as lemons that we can't grow in this country - but where there's a choice...  well, just think about it.