Core values: Valerie O’Connor enjoys the fruits of nature’s bounty, with apples at the very top of her foraged and found food pile.
And so the season of endless abundance is in full swing.
You can’t drive down a country lane without seeing sloe berries, plums, apples, pears and so many things just ripe for the picking.
After a gloriously hot trip to Greece where free food springs from every corner, plump figs, sweet grapes growing out of fences, pomegranates, almonds, olives, it’s easy to become envious of their natural wealth when it comes to food.
The constant sun will give you these things of course, so we have to make the most of what we have and in autumn we have a lot.
From blackberries to delicious and nutritious elderberries, the coming weeks are a great opportunity to get outside in your wellies and do some food foraging.
Start cleaning out those jars in the fridge full of half-eaten things you’ll never finish, wash some re-usable bottles and get prepared for the season of preserving and fermenting.
Without a doubt the fruit we are most rich in, is the Irish apple.
If you’re lucky enough to have a few apple trees in your back garden, enjoy the fruits as nothing tastes quite like a home-grown apple.
Of course it can be hard to use them up, you can get creative and make cider and apple cider vinegar which is good for so many ailments, from digestion to arthritis and also helps weight loss.
There are so many things to do with apples, from tarts to cakes and now there are several recipes out there that use applesauce as a replacement for sugar.
If you’re trying to eliminate sugar from your diet, getting into applesauce is a handy way to help this process and give you a nice stock of something really tasty for deserts, snacks and baby food.
A desert we used to have growing up, was baked apples, and it’s one I’ve featured in my new book Val’s Kitchen.
Baking apples takes no effort at all and you end up with a delicious and warming desert that’s full of nutrition and that word we don’t hear about any more, fibre!
I’ve replaced the sugar with honey and filled them up with some delicious butter, one of the best foods you can eat.
Baked apples is a desert that I used to turn my nose up as a child when my Mum made them.
Pity the fool I was, as I missed out on their magical, delicious, toffee transformation in the oven.
In autumn, when perfect Bramley cooking apples are practically being given away, it’s great to make these in minutes and throw them in the oven to bake while you’re having your dinner.
No skills needed and you can easily swap whatever dried fruit you happen to have for something else, dates or raisins, it doesn’t really matter.
This desert is free from artificial sugar, be sure to pour some fresh cream or yogurt all over them too.
Serves as many as you like.
Preheat the oven to 180degreesC Wash and core the apples, I use a potato peeler to do this.
Pop the apples in an ovenproof dish.
If they tend to wobble, simply slice a sliver of their bottoms so they sit upright Stuff the fruit into the hollow centre and drizzle some honey over each centre, ideally some will dribble down the middle.
Sprinkle over a little cinnamon and plop the knob of butter on top.
Bake the apples in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the skins crack and everything is golden and oozey. Devour while still warm.
Baked Apple Sauce
Get any jars you have saved up and give them a good wash and sterilise them by putting them through a dishwasher cycle without a tablet, or bake them in the oven at 160C for 10 minutes.
To make this sauce use as many apples as you want to use up, depending on what you have.
As a guideline I’ll do one kilo.
Preheat the oven to 180C
Line your big oven tray with foil and place the apples, cut side down on the tray, cover the tray, or trays, tightly with foil Bake the apples in the oven for about 45mins, take the tray out and remove the foil.
The skins will pinch off easily and you can eat them warm, they are yummy.
Mash up the pulp with a fork and have for desert with cream or Greek yogurt or pack it into clean jars and keep in the fridge or freezer.
If you are keen to start an orchard at home, Irish Seedsavers in Scariff, Co.Clare are running a lovely workshop called Creating an Orchard on Sunday September 11.
Topics covered include choosing a site, layout of orchard, choosing rootstocks, soil preparation, drainage, maintenance, health and disease, and choosing varieties.
Soil health and improvement and pruning techniques will also be covered.
Seedsavers are integral in the preservation of heritage varieties of Irish apples and a great place to get your apple trees.
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