Homeward Bound

Tootling back along the Staffs and Worcester today to our marina, we passed by a row of John Downie Crab Apple Tree lining the towpath.

They are quite distinctive because of the rosy oblong fruit which is much sweeter than many crab apple varieties.  The row between Gailey and Hatherton must have been planted at some point as they are generally ornamental trees confined to gardens but these are definitely freely available.

They are the same variety as the thirteen kilos my lovely friend picked from her neighbour and delivered to me shortly before we went away.  My favourite recipe is definitely the Sweet Pickled Crab Apples from that batch, but the Apple Butter has to be a close second.  I made it at the same time as the Crab Apple Cheese, taking half the contents of the stewed apple as a starting off point.  I have never made a fruit cheese before and fancied giving it a go.  I think I may need to do a little bit of experimenting to get it exactly right for my tastes as this recipe seems a bit sweet for me.  However, so far, I have only tried it on its own.  I suspect with a good sharp cheddar or a lovely piece of ham the apple cheese could blossom into its own.  The apple butter is divine though.  It is a little bit like curling up on a winter’s day in front of a roaring fire with a favourite book.  Bliss.

Crab Apple Cheese

2kg Crab Apples, rinsed

300ml water



food grade wax for sealing

Place apples in preserving pan with water and simmer gently until soft.  Mash until pulpy.  Push through sieve and weigh.  For every 450g of pulp add 350g sugar to a separate bowl.  Place pulp back into clean pan and warm gently until think and no liquid visible.  Add sugar and stir till dissolved.  Take off about half of the mixture if making Crab Apple Butter.  Simmer mixture very slowly, for about an hour, until thick enough to see the base of the pan for a couple of seconds when spoon scraped through middle.  Use small dishes (I used ramekins) brushed with glycerine and spoon mixture in.  Seal with melted wax and leave to cool.  Allow to mature for 4-6 weeks before using.  Use within 12 months.

Spiced Crab Apple Butter

1/2 quantity of apple cheese mix

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1tsp cinnamon

Add the spices to the apple mix and stir.  Heat gently until simmering.  Boil rapidly for 10-15 mins until thick and creamy.  Remove from heat and pour immediately into warm sterilised jars.  Seal.  Use within 12 months.


Taking a Leek and plugging Forager’s Friend

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.

The Capt perfecting the boat hook technique

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.

Damsons & Cherry Plums before they were subjected to my pastry

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

1tsp cloves

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.