Things to do with apples

Apple season is finally drawing to an end, and for the first time I won’t be thoroughly relieved.  I’ve got four apple trees in my garden, cropping from early September until the end of December – or longer, subject to them not getting eaten by birds.  They are all heritage varieties, all really crunchy and tasty in their different ways (I can never settle on a favourite) but a girl can only eat so many apples.
The work is – or seems – relentless, picking them up off the ground before they get pooed on by the ducks or squashed with a welly, working out where to put them while they are pending, then processing them before they do the ‘bad apple’ thing to one another. This year I seem to have had a bit of a break-through.  It’s been manageable rather than onerous (oh OK, it was a bit onerous at one point) and I have now found a number of workable practices that make use of the apples without… I can’t think of a good word.

So… here goes:

Eat them

The best strategy I have found is to put apples in all the places there is nothing else to eat.  There’s something about a bruised apple covered in duck poo that just doesn’t complete with an egg and tofu sandwich or a slice of Food For Thought’s Tarte au Citron.  But if I keep a basket of them in my bedroom I can sometimes eat 7 before breakfast, and manage a couple of hours of writing uninterrupted by having to go and eat.  Or a couple in my bag at the car boot sale will prevent me from buying crisps.  Or a few in the van, within reach of the driver’s seat, is enough to stop me from pulling in at Food For Thought for said Tarte au Citron (and a Vegetarian Scotch Egg, a packet of crisps and a tub of olives).

Dry them

I didn’t do this all on my own.  Rather than stand there blowing on pieces of apple all day until they deign to dry out, I purchased a Vigo Fruit and Vegetable Drier.   I saw it at the Devon County Show a couple of years ago and decided I wanted one, so I don’t know why I didn’t get one sooner.  It is made of plastic, and has 4 removable trays, so you can sit in front of the telly to load them, and wash them easily afterwards.  The actual dryey thing is like a hairdrier that pokes down the hole in the middle of the trays.  It’s got two knobs: a Low, Medium, High knob (1,2,3) and a timer knob (1-12 hours).  I don’t take a huge amount of notice of them, except in that the timer knob turns it on.

There is a little instruction booklet that says a certain amount of stuff that I have now forgotten, and includes a table of various fruit and vegetables and what setting you should dry them on and for how long.  I didn’t really find any of that bore much relation to anything – probably because they don’t know what variety of fig I’ve got,  how big my apples are or how much of a hurry I’m in.  Vigo reckon the dryer cost 6p an hour to run.  I haven’t tested it, but as a general principle I want to dry things in as short a time as possible.  I just cut everything as thin as I can, set it on 2 and put it on for a few hours.  If you don’t take them out as soon as they are dry, they tend to go a bit moist again from the air, so it is best to time it to finish when you are there – so a lower setting for longer would mean not having to get up at 3.30am to jar up your dried stuff.  Basically I think you have to use trial and error to devise your own timings.

I started with the figs, which was a great relief.  I love fresh figs, but they do all come at one time.  So each day I ate as many as I wanted, then dried the rest – even succulent, ripe, Brown Turkeys dried OK when sliced really thinly.  So, no furry figs, and a big jar full of leathery, seedy, dried figs for snacks or cooking.

But the apples are just perfect for the dryer.  They dry far quicker than other fruit, and the flavour is so concentrated it is almost like chewing fruit gums, but without the gelatine.  The instructions tell you to dip your apple pieces in lemon juice first, so they don’t go brown.  I don’t care what colour they are so I didn’t bother.  Neither did I peel them – which means that my dried apple is really, really tasty and chewy rather than puffy like the bought ones.   Initially I tried removing the core and cutting them in rings, but it is much quicker to cut them in quarters, take the core out, and then slice thinly into crescent shapes.  Then when they’ve cooled down, put them in an airtight jar.  I took some to Scotland and there’s no sign of those – jarred mid September – going mouldy yet, despite opening the jar quite frequently.  I am sure they’ll keep until next year.

Vinegarise them

I always though it would be a good plan to make cider vinegar.  Cai always thought it would be a good plan to make cider, which I assumed we’d have to do first.  I also assumed that prior to this I’d have to press the apples and make apple juice – which was the sticking point, because (a) the press requires a big batch of apples at one go to make it worth the palaver, and (b) my home pressed apple juice is SO nice there’s no way I’d want to ruin it by making it go all fermented and cidery let alone all rancid and vinegary.

So you can imagine my delight when I came across this recipe: Make Apple Cider Vinegar From Scraps.  Basically you use all the pieces left over from making apple crumble, dried apple, etc, leave them lying around for a while, shove them in a jar, top it up with water, cover it with muslin and put it in the airing cupboard for a month until it goes scummy.  Sounds like my perfect recipe.

I’m about 2 weeks in and it is beginning to get scummy and is starting to taste a bit sour – a bit weak, maybe.  I don’t know if that is because it is scraps (i.e. not much apple juice) or because it isn’t ready.  So, I’ll have to wait and see.

If you are visiting The Healthy Eating Site, and are thinking of getting a drier, do have a look at the Salted Kale Chips.  They are absolutely amazing – just like ‘crispy seaweed’ from the Chinese restaurant, and very quick.

Press them

I’ve got a Vigo apple press, a predecessor to this one.   It’s good, but you do need quite a lot of apples at one go to make it worthwhile – and a certain amount to use it at all, as you need enough to make pressure.  You can get 9ltr ones now, I see, which is interesting.  That might also help alleviate the other problem, which is water use in cleaning it.  I have to wash it to clean off cobwebs at the beginning (maybe I should keep it in a bin liner), but at the end the crusher teeth are full of apple, and in between the wooden things.  It needs a jolly good hosing down, as you wouldn’t want to leave apople in it to dry on and go mouldy by next year.  Ideally you’d have a stream to wash it in.  It would be good to buy one between a group of people or for someone with a small orchard.

There are also events where they say ‘bring your own apples’ to be pressed.  I’d be a bit wary of that, unless you don’t like your apples and think you’d do better by getting some of other people’s.  I don’t really know how they work as I’ve never been to one, but you might want to check how they do it: do you each press your own apples while everyone else stands and watches?  Or do you all chuck in your apples and go away at the end with a batch of random juice?  Personally I’d want to know that.

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