Apple technology

The BBC website, should you do a desperate search for something to do with your apple crop, other than store them and put the problem off for another few months, lists 625 things you can do with them.  Bingo.

In the Borders garden, with a dozen trees, two proper ancients, and the rest planted fifteen years ago, we now get annual gluts.  ‘Proper’ above means planted in the 19th century, when the house was three separate cottages, and the apple trees were espaliered along the boundary lines for each tiny garden.  The other trees are ancient too, in the sense that they are old varieties.  Even ‘Court Plat Pendu’ gave us a tolerable crop this year – it is a rather tricky and slow growing variety supposedly once admired by Roman gardeners.  I can’t honestly say it tastes that good yet.  Perhaps in a month or two in the cellar.

Anyway, the first fallen of the glut now bubble away in the kitchen.  After last years apple wine disappointment (not that much flavour, so we’ve been beefing the bottles up with wormwood, basil, bay, mint, and spices, and finding that the ‘vermouths’ we’ve made are quite good), we wanted cider. The real stuff.

james working the press

Not having access to my sister’s ex’s medieval apple press down in Somerset, we rented some modern machinery.  The Somerset apple press was worked by water power.  Wish we’d had the same.  Shredding the apples was hard work, needing two of us, much coffee and quite a few buns.  Crushing the shreds was easier, but not hugely productive.  And not especially romantic.  When my sister made cider, I remember juice pouring out of the stone spigot.  She had a cider orchard, though I think that’s now been grubbed up.  The apples were left on the ground until early winter, ripening the while, and too hard for most of the birds to ruin.  They must have generated much more sugar during that time than our eating and cooking apples, for I had to add extra sugar to ensure a nice alcoholic product.  Jane’s left no-one standing after a pint.  Anyway, we’ll see how it turns out.

So, enough apple jelly already made to last until next glut, one lots done with rosehips collected from the eglantine roses down in the wood.  If you don’t know it, have a rummage.  It can be trimmed as a hedge, though will make a 2m high bush with great, thorny, arching stems if you leave it alone.  It’s lovely in spring as the leaves unfurl, for they waft the smell of freshly baked apple pie into the warming air.  Flowers abundant, small, sharp pink, hips sealing wax red, eventually stripped by the birds.

Chutney.  Cheese.  Tarte tatin.  and on and on.  Into pork stews.  Sauce for goose.  Packed in the casserole around a pheasant or two.  Oh, and my latest discovery amongst the 625: granita.  With a dash of vanilla and calvados.  Yum.

And storage?  Well, put four or five unblemished apples along the base of a plastic supermarket bag.  Ideally, the apples shouldn’t touch.  Roll the bag up.  Put in a cardboard box – wine bottles arrive in just the right size box.  Repeat until apples finished, or you’ve run out of bags or boxes.  Put boxes somewhere cool.  Depending on the variety of apple, ‘keepers’ will still be in a good state into March and April.  Waxy skinned varieties develop a bit of mould on the wax, though this is easily scrubbed off when you want to cook or eat the fruit.

James’s and my previous garden had a proper 18th century apple store.  A room for storing apples on the ground floor, though all the wooden shelves for storing fruit had long gone, and the door opening off the walled kitchen garden.  A little sitting room above, with pretty fireplace, four windows, and a staircase coming up from the walled flower garden.  Ruinous when we bought the ground, we restored it, loved it madly, and hope that its new owners get as much pleasure from it as we did.  I used to love it on snowy winter evenings, listening to the sea crashing on the beach.

When we sold up, we brought away some ‘maiden’ apples just planted to augment the collection there.  They moved easily into the new garden, and it is those that give us gluts now.  The varieties were:

Lord Harvey, Yellow Ingestre, Catshead, Pitmaston Nonpareil, Ribston Pippin, White Joaneting, Cornish Aromatic, and others.  If you fancy some good ones, have a look at this list – – so many gorgeous things to eat!  Plus plums, pears, quinces, rhubarbs and more.


About david stuart

garden writer and journalist, and occasionally a designer, with a garden in the Scottish borders, and his pal's gardens in Edinburgh, London, and Lincolnshire. They keep both of us very, very busy. Books I've written listed on my website, and dozens of articles and garden and plant pictures. Currently working on several new projects. One of these was to return to painting - see the blog - and which is proving exciting! or, more fun, have a look at
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