Bad joke, I know, but when you travel up the Leek arm of the Caldon Canal and it rains as soon as you pull in to moor, there are only bad jokes to crack.
We’ve made some distance since Tixall Wide and have left both the Staffs & Worcester and the Trent & Mersey way behind. The number of heavily laden crab apple trees we have seen has been immense. It is quite beyond me to tackle them at the moment. Besides which, a lovely friend of mine raided her neighbour’s John Downie crab apple tree and brought me round thirteen kilos just the other week, so I am a bit sated with the whole crab apple experience. I made jelly, cheese, butter and experimented with a batch of John Downie Brandy.
The proof of that will be in the drinking many months from now. In the meantime, the best and perhaps most surprising success, to my mind at least, was the whole pickled crab apples. Absolutely amazing! I had a few that I could not quite squeeze into a jar so we had them for tea with sausages, mashed potato and a good onion gravy. Yum. I shall post the recipe at the end of this post.
I have been keeping my eyes peeled for sloes this trip. For while I have a sneaking suspicion that I prefer Damson Gin to Sloe Gin, I feel further extensive research is required. However, I am finding them somewhat illusive. I can find damsons a plenty. But if I buy any more cheap supermarket gin someone is going to alert the authorities and my photo will be circulated to all stores nationwide. I have enough in stock for some sloe gin but I. Must. Not. Buy. Any. More.
So, today we had damson pie. Actually it was damson and cherry plum pie. I am amazed these weeny plums are still fruiting. I first picked these when we were on the Droitwich Canal at the beginning of July, and yet here we are in the middle of September and still the bright yellow and shiny red ones are around. They are deliciously sweet and offset the tartness of the damsons perfectly. I have no photo of our pie. It was an aesthetic disaster. I am not good with pastry. Hot hands. Plus, I had to roll it out with an empty gin bottle as I have no rolling-pin. Which probably did not help. Still, it tasted good.
This trip has been undoubtedly enhanced by discovering the little button on my Forager’s Friend iPhone app that pin points exactly where I am. Marvellous. It has always been there. Only I am too much of a numpty to have noticed it. Now, when I make a discovery, I can enter it immediately. I love this app so much, but the website is excellent too. The makers contacted me on Twitter and asked if I had any suggestions for enhancements. I put in a request for more canal/towpath information to make it more user-friendly for those of us on the waterways. But even without canal names and lock numbers, it is still a fabulous resource for any forager, with or without an iPhone.
Anyway, enough. Time for a recipe:
Sweet Pickled Crab Apples
1kg crab apples
300ml cider vinegar
400g granulated sugar
25g root ginger, bruised
1tsp allspice berries
5cm piece cinnamon
Prick the crab apples all over with a needle or skewer to prevent the skins bursting. Put the vinegar, sugar, ginger, allspice and cinnamon in a pan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Add the apples and cloves. Simmer gently until apples soft but not mushy. Remove with a slotted spoon and pack into warm, sterilised jars. Bring vinegar syrup to the boil and boil for 5 mins. Strain over apples. Cover with vinegar proof lids. Leave for 1 month before eating. Use within one year.