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Tackling the apple mountain

I have a glut of apples in my garden. Well, perhaps ‘glut’ is too strong a word for the produce of only two trees, one of which is several thousand years old and grows small soft wizened apples (variety unknown), and the other of which is three years old, and grows large rock-hard apples (variety once known but swiftly forgotten). Yet in these times of economic gloom and financial austerity, the appeal of ‘glut’ as a descriptor is irresistible.

The large hard apples are still clinging gamely to the tree, whereas the small soft apples came down in the wind at the beginning of October and have since rolled into fermenting heaps that are turning to scrumpy before my very eyes. My dogs, who are retriever-style dogs, like to pick up these apples and carry them around in their mouths. The chickens are equally partial to a spot of rotting-apple pudding. The cat lies nearby in the autumn sun, inhaling the rich fumes. When I finally noticed that all our livestock were lurching around in state of mild inebriation, I decided it was time to do something drastic. Like cooking.

You see the problem with apples is that you can’t just bung them in the freezer to ‘deal with later’ like you can with blackberries. Nor bung them in gin to quaff at Christmas, like you can with sloes, damsons, elderberries and, er, other stuff that countryfolk know about. Apples demand a high level of interventionist preparation before storage solutions can be enacted. Such as boiling into chutneys or pressing into juices or baking into cakes. The joy is, you reap the benefits later: cakes and juices can freeze, chutneys sit about getting better and better as time passes.

But what a task it is, levering apples out of a Labrador’s mouth, checking for edible bits, rinsing, peeling, paring, coring, slicing and so forth.

More than any other foodstuff, cooking with apples requires a fundamental armoury of kitchen equipment. Without it, the job is tedious, onerous, tiresome and potentially dangerous (you could easily die of boredom halfway through the second bushel). With the right equipment the job can be fast, furious and fun. No, I’m lying: it never gets that good. But it can be less tedious and a lot quicker.

This is the basic equipment that I would recommend for tackling your own apple mountain:
1. a decent peeler (see previous posts);
2. an apple corer;
3. a small paring or vegetable knife;
4. a mandoline slicer of some sort (Kuhn Rikon’s Quick Slice Mandoline is far and away the best of its kind and only costs a tenner, but other companies make hand-held slicers, which is all you need. If you genuinely want to own a huge multifunctional, many-bladed mandoline, that’s up to you, but don’t blame me if you can’t be bothered to get it out of the box);
5. a lemon reamer/juicer (yes, you do. When preparing apples in large quantities, you should put them in water with lots of lemon juice to stop them browning);
6. some core pieces of bakeware suitable for your own favourite apple recipes. My personal must-haves – but the list is by no means prescriptive – are Silverwood‘s 2lb loaf tin, a 12x8-inch or 9x9-inch brownie tin (or other traybake tin) and a deep loose-bottomed 8-inch round cake tin, the hard-anodised tarte tatin (which is also brilliant for apple pies) and a 10-inch or 11-inch deep quiche for flans and tarts;
7. a large, heavy based stockpot or jam pan (invest in the one you’ll get most use out of, which is probably the stockpot).

Each and every one of these kitchen essentials will more than earn its keep with frequent use in a happy, bustling kitchen. More importantly, cooking with homegrown or local, seasonal apples gives you a hearty glow of achievement and might very well save your pets from a lifetime of alcoholism.

Posted: 01-Nov-11

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