We’ve had a pretty poor August, weather-wise. Lots of rain, lots of high winds, only intermittent sunshine. These conditions, coupled with the pigeon and codling maggot damage that I complained about a couple of weeks ago, have resulted in a lot of early windfalls, or damaged apples that need picking from the tree before they rot, in the orchard at work and on the Plot #79 allotment orchard.
I really dislike wasting food, so I was determined to make the best use I can of as many dropped and damaged apples as possible. Under-ripe apples usually aren’t worth juicing or making into cider as they probably don’t contain enough sugars to make either drink palatable1I have this on good authority from my boss, who tried it last year, and ended up with verjuice. The smaller (too hard and sour, and too fiddly to peel and core) and/or more distinctly ruined fruits just aren’t worth saving – into the compost they go. Everything else, I clean, peel, chop and cook up into a delicious spiced apple compote for eating right away, or storing in the freezer. Here’s how:
Select the Usable Apples
Here’s a selection of the apples I’ve been picking up2A mix of ‘Howgate Wonder’ and ‘Blenheim Orange’ from the orchards at work. As you can see, some of them are pecked, holed by moth maggots or otherwise damaged, and some of them have a bad case of bitter pit – a disorder caused by irregular irrigation patterns rather than a disease – but they’re all still usable, with a bit of careful knifework.
Peel, Core, Chop and Clean
Here are a couple of examples of the sort of damage you might encounter once you begin processing the apples. The maggot-tunnel damage (on the left) can just be chopped away – remove a decent chunk of the apple flesh from that end to make sure you don’t leave any manky bits3Technical term… or frass4Maggot droppings. Also distinctly manky. behind. The bitter-pit markings (on the right) are only superficial. Theyt can be sliced away with a knife or apple peeler to reveal the unblemished flesh beneath.
Chuck all your chunks of apple into a pan of acidulated water as you process them – that’s regular tap water with a good slosh of added lemon juice – to stop the flesh browning quite so quickly while you work on chopping up a whole panful. Once you’ve got your panful, pour away the water – to wash out any lingering frass etc. – and prep the fruit for cooking.
Spice and Simmer Slowly Until Done
I like to put a slosh of apple juice or water in with the fruit to stop it catching and burning as it stews. I then add a good chunk of dark brown muscovado sugar – which adds a lovely, rich, caramel flavour to the apples – and a sprinkle of golden caster or demerara. It’s hard to say how much you should add, because it depends on how much fruit you’re cooking and how big your pan is, but I’d suggest under-estimating the amount of sugar to start with, as you can always stir in more sugar during cooking if the mixture isn’t sweet enough.
My preferred spice mix is ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, in the ration 4:2:1 so that’s a small teaspoon of the first, to a half, to a quarter. Feel free to vary to suit your taste in spices. Then it’s a case of on with the pan lid and set the stove to a low heat, allowing the apples to reduce for about 20 to 30 minutes. I tend to leave the pan unstirred until near the end. That way the apples at the bottom will reduce to a puree whilst the ones on top stay firmer, which I think makes for a great crumble or pie filling. But if you want a smoother puree, then stir every ten minutes or so to make sure all the fruit is heated through and reduces evenly.
About 5-10 minutes before the end of cooking, lift the lid and stir well – but not too well if you’re aiming to retain some bigger chunks of apple – and then check the sweetness and flavour, to see if you need to add more sugar, spice, or anything else nice.
Enjoy Now or Freeze for Later
Once the compote is done, you can either eat it right away – with custard, ice cream, yoghurt etc. or just as it is – or if you want to save it for later, remove the pan from the heat and leave it to cool until it’s ready for bagging. I use zip-lock type freezer bags, spooning in enough for a double or triple portion and squeezing out as much air as I can before sealing. I then put them down flat in the freezer, which makes them much easier to store once they’ve solidified. You’ll then have a ready supply of delicious spiced compote to bring out, defrost and use as a porridge-topping, aforementioned crumble or pie filling, or just as a bowlful of warm, spicy, appley goodness on a cold and miserable winter’s day.
That’s it! So simple it’s barely a recipe. But definitely a great way of using up those under-ripe windfalls in the most delicious manner.
How about you? Do you do anything different with your under-ripe apples? Pickling them perhaps? Do let me know, via the comments.
- 1I have this on good authority from my boss, who tried it last year, and ended up with verjuice.
- 2A mix of ‘Howgate Wonder’ and ‘Blenheim Orange’ from the orchards at work
- 3Technical term…
- 4Maggot droppings. Also distinctly manky.