It never ceases to amaze me how much fruit goes unpicked and unused across the city. Leftover remnants of orchards abound in Liverpool, a legacy of the city’s more prosperous past. Many a large Victorian or Georgian house has long disappeared, leaving only the ghost of a garden behind, which has either been incorporated into a new housing estate or forms the edge of a new road system. Driving round Liverpool I find crab trees in pub car parks and on the edge of Otterspool’s new houses; I spot apple trees on Menlove Avenue and along the edges of golf course boundaries. Plum trees poke above the fenced off industrial areas in Garston. All are laden with fruit, left unpicked to eventually fall and rot in the grass below. I often head out for a forage, coming back with kilos of apples to use in jellies and chutneys, always of course leaving some behind for others and wildlife to munch on.
At the end of September I had occasion to visit Wavertree, where I stumbled upon a trio of apple trees, merrily shedding their harvest into a car park, where their beautiful red fruit was being driven over by cars and mashed into an unusable pulp. I picked up 3 kilos of apples from the ground in about 10 minutes and took them home. They were such a beautiful red, I photographed them and then prepared to use them for an apple jelly base. Cutting one open I was amazed to discover that the flesh of the apple was also red, not something I had seen before. Diligent research via twitter, facebook and google suggested that these apples were a variety of orange pippin, possibly crossed with a crab apple. Tasting them, the flesh was juicy, tart and firm.
I was contacted by Paul Quigley from Norton Priory, a museum and garden in nearby Runcorn (http://nortonpriory.org/). Their 18thC walled garden contains an orchard of local heritage apples as well as the National Collection of Quinces. Paul was interested in the apples I had found, as he helps to identify and collect old varieties of apples once grown more extensively in the North West. I had kept back a few of the apples, as I had thought to send them to Brogdale (www.brogdale.org/), which keeps the National Fruit Collection, with over 4000 varieties of British heritage fruits. Norton was much closer! Paul kindly swapped a bag of quinces, medlars and apples for my “found” treasures, and I wait to hear if they will be definitively identified and perhaps propagated for the future.
And the rest of the apples? I turned them into the most beautiful jewel like jelly, with cider and mulled spices. Something to serve with the King of English Cheese, Colston Basset’s creamy hand ladled Stilton this Christmas. A much better end than squashed in the road!
Roughly chop your apples, cores and all. Put into a heavy based pan and just cover the fruit with cold water. Add 1 halved lemon and bring to the boil then turn down and simmer gently for about an hour, until the apples have become a soft pulp. Pour the apple pulp and liquid into a jelly bag suspended over a large bowl (Lakeland do a good, foldable and adjustable one) to drip through the juices for 24 hrs. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag dry, it will make your end jelly cloudy rather than lusciously sparkling.
Once all the liquid has dripped through, measure the amount of liquid into a pan and add 1lb of sugar to each pint of apple liquor. Stir well to dissolve. At this point I also added a 500ml bottle of Welsh Cider, 1 tsp of ground cinnamon, 1 tsp of ground ginger, 1 tsp of allspice and a ½ tsp of ground cloves. (I also added some extra sugar to compensate for the additional cider liquid – half ratio this time). Bring to a rolling boil and let the liquid simmer until setting point is reached – either forming a skin you can wrinkle with your finger when you put a spoonful on a cold saucer or use a sugar thermometer and let it reach around 106C. If a slight scum forms, add a little butter to dissolve it.
Pour into sterilized jars and seal, leave to set before storing somewhere cool before use.