It would be rude not to do something with autumn’s falling apples, says Valerie O’Connor.
Apples are falling from the trees everywhere. If pigs could roam freely in Co Limerick (where they inevitably do anyway), they would have a party chowing down on the windfalls littering so many unattended gardens. Why everybody doesn’t have a cider press is beyond me.
I live in the middle of Limerick City so the only way I’d get apples straight from the tree is to go robbing orchards like we used to do when we were kids. Growing up, we had five trees at the back of the house all standing in obedience along one side of the garden.
The trees did feck-all for years and we stood around every autumn wondering why they refused to bear fruit, sometimes poking them in the trunk with a stick. Then, out of the blue one year they all decided to go mad — a horde of amazing apples sprang forth. We had so many that we even packed them in boxes to store, wrapping each one in newspaper and stacking them in a big cardboard box my Dad had finagled from Jimmy the veg man.
Jimmy used to call to our house on a Thursday at around four o’clock as he did the rounds of the area. Usually he sported a tatty, blue, round-neck jumper and was a cheery and handsome guy. Mum would leave a list for him on the hall table and a few quid to cover the costs if she wasn’t home. Jimmy would hump the four-stone bag of spuds across the road and into the garage of our house, always with a smile. Sometimes his son came to help him, I fancied him but I knew he was scruffy and I was probably too young to be fancying boys so I said nothing but used to go across the road to the veg van and stare at him while he shuffled our apples and oranges into a box to carry back home.
Eventually, the apple trees were cut down for being overbearing, being so generous they attracted various other orchard thieves on their way home from the Ennis Rd swimming pool. Our house was at the end of the road so the trees were ripe for the picking by opportunistic fruit snafflers. I’ll never forget the juicy perfection of enormous red apples snagged from the highest boughs with a garden rake to munch on on my walk back to school after dinner in the middle of the day.
My mum makes the best pastry, so I’ve been told by anyone who eats it, so I don’t doubt it. Not being a huge pastry fan, I never got into baking tarts but I could do it with my eyes closed.
Here goes: The pastry made without a recipe but it’s four ounces of plain flour, two of butter ice cold and grated into the flour, rubbed gently with your fingers and the crumbs lifted up to keep it light, 2-3 tablespoons of water mixed in, and bring it together in a disc and that’s it, into the fridge for a few minutes while you peel two big Bramleys.
Roll out two circles of pastry. Lay one out over a plate, a pyrex one just for this job, slice around the edges deftly with a knife so you have perfect cover.
Peel the cooking apples and slice them straight onto the pastry. This would usually be done absent-mindedly and mid intense chat with a neighbour drinking tea at the kitchen table.
Sprinkle on some sugar. Brush the circumference with water or egg and lay on the second circle, cut around the edges again, holding the plate aloft and then skim around the outside with a fork, pressing the edges together to create a perfect, crunchy crust. Make a couple of cuts in the top and fold them back before brushing on beaten egg or milk and dust with a little more sugar. Bake at 180C for about half an hour, devour.
Like I said, I’ve never made an apple tart, that’s just learning by osmosis at the kitchen table with my mother. Thanks Ma!
Here is my homage to a great and warming apple treat. This was the first ever recipe I wrote for my blog Val’s Kitchen so it also appears in my book of the same name.
I’m thrilled that Mum now bakes this regularly, though there’s a lot more effort involved than a tart. It keeps for ages and is the kind of cake you can keep in a tin for a week and take out for visitors.
One cake can make many people happy.
Autumn Apple Cake
Preheat oven to 180°C/ Gas 4
1. Grease a 24cm springform tin with butter and cut out a circle of greaseproof paper to line the bottom.
2. Peel and chop the apples into small pieces, this can be very random as the apples get very soft in the cake. Squeeze the lemon juice over the apples and leave them aside.
3. Cream the butter in a mixer by whisking it alone for about a minute, and add the sugar and grated lemon zest, beat until it is light in colour and fluffy.
4. Add the eggs, one by one, sifting in some of the flour after each one. Add the baking powder and ground almonds, then loosely fold in the apples. Stir the mixture to combine and spoon into the prepared tin. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top and place in the preheated oven.
Check the colour after 30 minutes. If it is getting too brown, cover the cake loosely with tinfoil and continue cooking it for a further 20-30 minutes. Everybody knows the temperament of their own oven so follow your instincts.
I made a jar of this last year and brought it to a nice group of ladies at a country gardening club where it proceeded to blow the head off everyone and send lots of them over the limit to drive home. It’s really easy and very warming and fuzzy in your chest, but that’s booze in general right? I like to have a snifter when I’m taking a bath, warming myself up both inside and out. Be clever and get a few Kilner jars and make Christmas (there I said it!) presents that are artisan and impressive and will make your friends’ gifts of BT vouchers seem lame, yet still better and always welcome. You can’t swap a murky jar of brown liquid for a pair of Stella McCartney runners in the sale after all!
Makes 1 litre
Simply pile everything into the jar and close it, making sure the seal is on well. Turn it upside down a few times and for the next few days give it a shake to help the sugar to dissolve. Now put it in a dark cupboard for a few weeks until you are ready to crack it open and enjoy a festive digestif. Be warned: The apples and extra sugars will ferment so that, over time, the drink will become a more potent rocket fuel.
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