Tuesday, 18 August 2009
I finished mowing the lawn today - a job I loathe - and as a reward sat on the bench under the apple tree and drank a glass of beer. The tree isn't any great age. Its branches were so overgrown that I've been pruning it on a 3 year programme so as not to shock it into producing watershoots or too much growth at the expense of fruit. It doesn't get sprayed so the apples get scab and canker, but it doesn't affect their value to me in the kitchen. And the other animals that eat them certainly don't care about a few blemishes.
I was looking at the windfall apples that had dropped where I mowed and I started counting all the benefits we get from this lone bramley apple tree:
1) the best of the windfall apples for crumble - Mike's favorite - and for blackberry and apple jelly (the pectin in the apples is necessary to get the jelly to set)
2) the 2nd class windfalls I save in a bucket as a treat for a local farmer's pigs
3) The chickens take advantage of the flesh of any apples I accidentally mow over
4) Spud and Pip pick up any little or overlooked windfalls as toys to play with, a vital component to the 'Chase me' game they both love
5) When the Pomona travelling cider press comes to the village, I can pick the rest to press into apple juice and apple cider vinegar
And it's not just the fruit that's useful. Our young niece and nephew visited last weekend, and the tree is just the right size for climbing games. The bird seed feeders hang in its branches conveniently close to the hedge so the nervous little birds can feed near safety and any youngsters. I have a long string of white lights hung in the canopy and on the 1st of December I turn on the lights for Christmas and they look so beautiful highlighting the shape of the tree. And last but not least, I can sit on the bench under the tree enjoying a beer after mowing the lawn.
You don't have to give up your day job, move to the country, and buy a farm to feel self sufficient. You can get so much out of even a single tree. A windfall indeed.
Simple Apple & Blackberry Jelly recipe
Pick as many blackberries, or any sweet hedgerow berry, as you like. I fill an old cookie tin.
Pick 1/3 as much apple to go with the blackberries.
Wash both. Peel the apple and cut into chunks. Put it in a big heavy-bottomed pan and add water til it's just below the top layer of fruit (about 1/2")
Cook gently over low heat until all the fruit is soft (about 15min)
Put a big bowl under a jelly bag or muslin tied to the legs of an upside-down chair (elastic hairbands work great for attaching muslin to chairlegs). Pour cooked fruit into bag or muslin and let juice drip into the bowl beneath, about 2 hours. DON'T be tempted to squeeze fruit to extract last bits of juice (makes jelly cloudy).
Put extracted juice back into (cleaned) heavy-bottomed pan. Add 1 cup sugar for every cup of juice in the pan. Heat to a rolling boil. Skim off any schmutz that rises to the surface and discard.
Heat until jelly reaches setting point. I test this by putting a few drops on a plate and putting the plate in the freezer momentarily. Take it out, tip the plate and if the drops ball up and begin to gel then your jelly is ready to go into sterilised jars (If you're not sure how to sterilise jars, check the internet - there are SO many ways, so chose one that's convenient for you)
Pour jam into jars. Cool. Label. Store. Enjoy
n.b. - if your jam doesn't set hard enough, don't sweat it. It's still great warmed up on pancakes, crepes filled with vanilla ice cream, etc. Just tell people it's a blackberry coulis.