The Straw Cottage

eco-accommodation and growing experiments on a small scale

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Ripe apples

2013 was a fantastic year for apples. I was obviously very impressed judging by the number of photos I took! At home we have an old tree in the garden with apples that ripen in August. They are a soft apple and won’t store (but they are lovely fresh or frozen in yogurt pots as apple sauce).

Apple sauce ready to freeze

Apple sauce ready for the freezer in a handy sized pot

I took some of these apples to an RHS identification day where the expert, Jim Arbury, told me they were a variety called Bushey Grove (RHS award of merit 1922). I do have a little doubt over this as the information I’ve read says that they are harvested October to December but few remain on our tree by October. Also Auntie Dolly reckons the tree was planted before 1920 and the first ever Bushey Grove tree only fruited in 1910. Would it really have made it from Kent to a Yorkshire garden by 1920?
Apple tree Bushey Grove

An RHS expert identified the apples on this tree as Bushey Grove

Anyway, whatever its name, we love the apples from this tree. With it ripening so early though, it is very popular with wasps. Our favourite eating apple tree, Discovery, is also early and plagued by wasps. However, knowing how fabulous a freshly picked Discovery is, I was tempted to buy three more bare rooted trees at a local sale last spring. I planted them in buckets for this year and let them carry one or two fruits each. They definitely weren’t Discovery! I took these to the expert too and he told me they were Jupiter (RHS award of merit 1993). I’m not disappointed though. They are nice sweet apples with the added bonus that they ripen much later – long after the wasps have gone for the year. I now have an extended eating apple season!
Discovery apples

2013 was a great year for Discovery apples

Jupiter apples

This tree was labelled Discovery in the sale but actually the apples are Jupiter

I now have an extended cooking apple season too. When I was told that this gorgeous tree at Village Farm was a Bramley Seedling I wasn’t very impressed – I’ve never been a fan of shop bought ones.
Bramley seedling apple

Bramley Seedling apple tree in full bloom at Village Farm

However, having so many other apples to deal with, the Bramleys were left untouched. They were still on the tree in November and I still have some keeping well just in a bowl now. They are delicious raw or cooked so don’t be put off by Bramleys picked far too early for commercial reasons – they are 100 times better when left to mature on the tree!
Bramley Seedling apples

Bramley seedling apples like you don’t see them in the shops!

I’m sure that if I’d picked more back in November and stored them correctly, they would last a lot longer. Aunty Dolly recommends storing a few in plastic bags in a cold outbuilding, putting pin pricks in the bags so the apples don’t sweat. The advantage of this over wrapping them in newspaper is that you can instantly see if any are going bad and remove them.
It was also a good year for wild crab apples. I made this bowlful into chilli jelly. I made some into a mint jelly too but next year that experiment will need more mint!
crab apples

2013 was a good year for wild crab apples too

The thing with all these apple sauces and jellies though, is the amount of sugar needed to preserve them. I cut it down in the chilli jelly recipe but then it needed a lot longer on the boil to achieve a set. We did juice quite a lot of eaters and froze some to drink later. That was lovely without any added sweetness. My friend Judy makes wonderful apple crisps in her dehydrator. The variety she used didn’t need any sugar and were absolutely delicious. I’m looking out for a second hand one so that I can trial my varieties dried. Seems we need electricity to either prepare or store most apples!


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Ripe pumpkins

Taking shelter from a heavy storm on Saturday, I flicked through a pile of Farmer’s Guardians. I always like to have a quick read through before recycling – even though my pile can get quite big sometimes. I’m keeping myself up to date with news in the farming world mostly but in the 18 October 2013 edition a recipe for pumpkin, apple and cider soup took my eye. I have 2 huge pumpkins left over from last year – and the onions and cooking apples that were needed too.

pumpkin and apple

A home grown pumpkin (Tom Fox) and apple (Bramley Seedling)

I’ve just made the soup for lunch. I started by softening a chopped onion in a knob of butter (the recipe said oil but I think butter always makes a tastier soup). Then a two inch cube of chopped ginger was added, together with half a teaspoon of allspice and a pinch of cayenne, stirring for a further minute or two. Next a peeled and chopped cooking apple and 800g cubed pumpkin flesh was added and softened for a while before adding 500 ml chicken stock and 200ml cider (I had to dink the remaining 368 ml in the bottle of course!). The soup was then simmered for 15 minutes, seasoned and blitzed.
It’s quite a sweet soup, with a ginger kick. It’s fairly nice but I think it needs a bit of something else. Perhaps I should roast the seeds in some spices to sprinkle on top? However, I will try to keep some of the seeds to plant this year too. It’s a Tom Fox variety from the Garden Organic catalogue. I know the seeds won’t come true as I had other varieties nearby but it’s worth a little experiment if I have space.
As I perused the cookery books in a charity shop last week, a Gordon Ramsay book (Kitchen Heaven) fell open at baked pumpkin so I felt obliged to part with 50p. The pumpkin looks great in the page size photo so I’ll have a go at that next. There is also a recipe for pumpkin and parmesan soup in the same book – together with his tips for choosing pumpkin – should be nice and ripe or the dish will be” tasteless and anaemic”. He recommends a dark brown, quite wrinkly skin and bright orange flesh that smells strongly of sweet pumpkin. I think mine fits that bill – hopefully the proof will be in the baking.
I mentioned Carole Deppe in my Potato notes 2013. She is the author of The Resilient Gardener which has a chapter on pumpkin and squash too – one of her staples. She has trialled lots of varieties and selected her favourites for storing, eating fresh and drying. The varieties may not be available in the UK but the chapter makes fascinating reading (as does the rest of the book).