Thursday, 16 October 2008

Hunting for Wilding Apples

I am a big fan of apples for eating, but not such a great fan of apples for cooking and that's probably because my tastes tend towards tart rather than sour. Which is why I'm well known for buying cooking apples for eating (Bramleys are a special favourite).

Even then, as a forager, I am not one to give-up the opportunity for free food. So yesterday I went along the local canal hunting for 'wilding apples'. Wildings are apple trees that have grown from seeds or cores thrown into a hedge or roadside verge.

Apples are unusual in that they require cross-pollination to be fertilized and for the apples to grow. As a result the seeds of an apple contain the characteristics of both parents. This is why an apple grown from seed will never be true to the original tree that bore it. Indeed, this is why apple trees need to be propagated from cuttings and why you need to match apple trees for cross-pollination when planting.

Any apple tree that grows from seeds will therefor have completely different flavour and texture profiles from the parents and you will not know what that tree's fruit is like until you bite into it.

That's why hunting for wilding apples can be very exciting. Of course, whilst looking for wildings I was also on the look-out for crabapples that I will use in stews and for making jams and preserves through the winter.

I eventually found half a dozen trees, tow of which were obviously Cox's crosses and made good eating. These apples have been laid down to keep over the winter. Another was a big surprise. It seems to be a golden delicious cross with a slightly floury interior but much tarter than the usual golden delicious and again I collected these and will keep for the winter.

The next was a green and red apple that was much tarter somewhere between a dessert apple and a cooking apple. Again I collected these, but I'm not certain what to do with them yet! But maybe I'll keep for a few weeks and make toffee apples.

I also found one that was far too sweet for my taste and I didn't bother with this one.

So, with these apples ready to be stored and with some recipe ideas already in mind, here are some recipes for you:

Toffee Apples

225g demerara sugar
110ml water
1/2 tsp vinegar
2 tbsp golden syrup
25g butter
6 apples (either dessert or tart apples, depending on preference)
6 wooden skewers


Combine the sugar and water in a pan and set over moderate heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar has dissolved then add the vinegar, syrup and butter. Stir to combine then bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to cook (do not stir at all), until the mixture reaches the soft crack stage (140°C, as measured by a confectioner's thermometer) — typically this will take about 10 minutes.

Pierce each apple with a wooden stick or skewer and make certain it's firmly embedded in the fruit. When the toffee is ready, dip each apple in turn in the hot mixture. Rotate the apple slowly so that the entire apple is coated (you may want to set the first apple aside and coat all the others then repeat the coating process so you get a nice layer of toffee). When ready, set the apples upright on a lightly-oiled baking tray or on greaseproof paper for the toffee to harden.

If desired, they can be wrapped in cellophane and will keep for a few days.

(This recipe is reproduced, with permission from the following toffee apples/candy apples recipe.)

Next is a rather unusual soup using wilding apples:

Wilding Apple Soup Recipe

30g butter
16 tart wilding apples, cored and chopped (or any tart apples)
1.2l water
1/2 tbsp freshly-grated lemon zest
3cm length of cinnamon
50ml Brich sap syrup (or Maple syrup)
1 tbsp arrowroot
1 tbsp lemon juice
60ml white wine

60ml sour cream


Melt the butter in a pan and use to gently fry the apples until just browned. Add the water, lemon zest, cinnamon and syrup. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the apples are tender.

Take off the heat, remove the cinnamon the allow to cool before puréeing in a blender, until smooth. Return the soup to the pan and warm though. Take 100ml of the soup and stir-in the arrowroot to form a smooth slurry. Add this back to the soup and cook until thickened. Add the lemon juice and wine, allow to heat through and serve in warmed soup bowls, garnished with a spoonful of sour cream.

This recipe is adapted from the following recipe for Wilding Apple Soup.

For more wilding apple recipes see this collection of Recipes for Wilding Apples.

One rather interesting discovery was a stand of ornamental crabapples trees of the 'Adams' cultivar. These have bright red fruit about 3cm in length and they make excellent eating. But they do seem to rot very quickly, so if you see some, pick and eat! Of course I also made my way to my favourite crabapple tree and collected what I could from there. Crabapples are very versatile and form the basis for a variety of food.

If you would like a list of crabapple based recipes then follow this link: List of Crab apple Recipes.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.

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