Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Making pears last for a few months

Just like the apples, the pear harvest was also mixed. We’ve only three trees in the orchard and another two on dwarf root stock coming on in the fruit cage, but not ready for producing fruit yet. So it fell to three trees to produce our crop.

The earliest of them is a lovely soft, round pear called Beth, which I normally harvest in mid-September. The tree itself is very small and suffers from being under the canopy – and competing with the roots - of a small copse of oak, ash and beech, with a few holly hawthorn and brambles thrown in. I’ll have to cut them back this winter.

But it wasn’t competition for light or nutrients that did for the crop this year but, once again, the cold spring. I don’t think the blossom suffered from frost as the benefit of it being so close to the copse is that it shelters it from frosts and cold south-easterly winds that we are vulnerable to.

However, the lack of pollinating insects was very noticeable at the time of the pear blossom and that looks to have done for virtually the entire crop. We had about three small fruit ripen – just enough to remind us of what we were missing.

The other two trees are later into blossom and faired better. Concorde was the best crop with plenty of good quality pears in the second week of October. And Conference, ripe a couple week later, also did okay with good quality fruit though not so many of them.

I also noticed there were far more pears on the sunnier, south and west facing sides on both of these trees.

We ate a few pears, the rest I’ve tried to process in various ways to keep them as they won’t store for long if left as whole fruit. To this end I’ve made:

• Pickled pears
• Pear, hazelnut and chocolate cake
• Sticky ginger and pear pudding
• Pear and cardamom tart
• Anjou pear cake

I’ll add the recipes or links to them on later articles, along with further links.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Making cider

I managed to press the bulk of the apples into about four gallons (17.5 litres) of apple juice. I didn’t bother keeping the varieties separate, just let them blend.

It takes around 20lb of apples to make a gallon of cider – no water added, of course. Those who buy a bag of apples from the shops and think they’re going to have a go may do better making an apple wine with plenty of water to bulk it out.

I used my brother’s apple press which takes about 9 litres of chopped fruit at a time. To start with you roughly chop the apples and then put them through a fruit mincer held over the open press.

The press itself is lined with muslin and then squashed. It’s a surprisingly long process and some would question whether or not it’s worth it. But there’s nothing like home-made cider ... no really, there is nothing like home-made cider!

Perhaps the fact that it all gets consumed reflects the effort that has gone into making it rather than the quality. Here, I’m speaking about my own, of course.

My brother, on the other hand, who makes loads of cider every year and bottles it with crown tops, makes some really decent stuff that I quite happily swig of an evening.

The last of mine tends to get used in cooking – pot roasts and casseroles – and here it works really well.

But this time I'm trying a new recipe and making a real effort to produce a decent drink. The recipe I’ve used is here and I've gone with the wild yeast rather than adding my own. I’ll report the results later.

When that will be – who knows? The mysterious art of cider making is a law unto itself! In the past cider makers used all kinds of techniques to determine when their brew was ready. One method was to add a one-cubic-inch nugget of pig iron to the fermentation. When this had completely dissolved the brew was ready.

And if pig iron was in short supply they turned to sheep – that’s a sheep, not sheep iron. They’d add a half a sheep to the fermentation vat and when the carcass was removed and no meat remained on the bones then the cider was ready.

Since I’m using demijohns, neither method holds much promise so I’ll stick to waiting until it is cleared (which hopefully it will).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Making apple cakes

I’ve already started putting the apple harvest to good use. The Bramley's make excellent Apple Cakes using a simple recipe:

1¾ cups plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar, plus 2 tbsp
1 egg, beaten
½ cup milk
1 large cooking apple (12oz or more)
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Butter a 10-inch pie tin or a Pyrex plate (great for shallow pies too).
3. Mix the flour and baking powder. Rub in the butter to produce a texture like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, beaten egg and milk to form a soft dough. Pat out half of the very wet dough in the greased pie tin.
4. Peel, core and chop the apple into 2cm cubes. Cover the dough with the apples and sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar and the cinnamon.
5. Gently spoon out the remaining dough on top of the apples to cover them completely. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tbsp. sugar and cut a slit through the middle of the top dough.
6. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden on the outside.

The Bramley's do equally well in apple pies and, thanks to a very late and bountiful blackberry harvest (I picked what will probably be the last of them today), my favourite - blackberry and apple pie.

We’ve been eating the Sunset apples as whole fruit since mid-September and I’ve put a few dozen and a similar weight of Bramley's into storage to use over the next couple of months.

On Thursday I should be pressing the remaining fruit to make cider.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Successful apple trees

Two of the Katy trees produced good apple crops. The third and newest Katy, a four-year-old planted just two years ago on M11 rootstock and destined to become a full sized tree, didn’t. But I wasn’t disappointed as it needs to concentrate its energy on growing good strong roots at this stage.

The successes, as ever, were the Bramley's Seedling and the Sunset trees. I thinned the apples on all the trees in July but still the Sunset produced a massive crop of small but very tasty apples. I harvested the last of them today.

Some will be eaten, some cooked and the rest turned into cider. They are really a dessert apple and not generally used for cider making or cooking but they do okay.

The Bramleys, however, are out-and-out cookers. Huge, lumpy fruit, they retain their excellent flavour and soften quickly when cooked. 

Katy apples are quoted as being ready in the first week of September but for us it is usually the end of August. However, this year it was mid-September because of the very cold, long spring.

The fruit were picked and eaten straight from the trees to start with but then, as the volume overwhelmed us, I left them in a tray on the patio in full sun and the skins completely reddened (the Sunsets also take on far more colour once picked and stored in trays in the sun).

However, Katy apples don’t store well so whatever is left will go for cider – which is not a bad thing as they are commercially grown as both a dessert apple and a cider apple.

The apples that start to rot or are too badly damaged to bother with make a tasty and interesting diversion for the chickens.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mixed apples, mixed fortunes

The apple harvest has apparently been good everywhere in the UK this year … everywhere, that is, except in our orchard.

Our fortunes were mixed with a couple of successes but a couple of total failures too.

Apple failures

One of our regular trees, a Cox’s Orange Pippin, suffered badly from the cold south-easterly winds that whipped up the Rhymney Valley last spring and froze and desiccated even some hardy plants.

It recovered but a lot of the new growth from last year perished and died. The rest of the tree suffered too. While everything was delayed by the unusually cold spring, this tree was much later coming into bud than the other apple trees.

When it did, those branches that had leaves had fewer than usual and those that had perished were just brittle sticks.

And there was very little blossom on it. I think by late June there were about four or five formative apples and all of these were lost before they could be harvested from what is usually a productive tree

Another apple tree suffered similarly with last year’s growth dying back and no fruit at all. But this tree – an Elliston’s Gold variety, has struggled to blossom at all since it was planted to replace a different variety that was removed five years ago because it was suffering from a canker.

I’m not sure what the problem is but there’s been very little blossom each year and the tree also suffers from a fungal infection each summer. I’ll watch it closely over the next 12 months and may have to resort to radical action.