Comfort me with apples

This has been a brilliant year for apples. Everywhere I go in Liverpool I have found trees dripping with apples. I have been given bushels of them by generous friends and even my cat Csardas got in on the act, bringing me an apple from next door’s tree. I do love an apple. I totally subscribe to the “one a day, keeps the doctor away” maxim and consume at least one every day. I love their variety – from the sharp almost wince making tang of a Granny Smith to the rough skinned but juicy Russet to the sweet Royal Gala. Aside from the so called dessert apples, we also have the wonderful Bramley – tart but flavoursome, with flesh that turns into a glorious fluffy puree when cooked; and the crab apple – wild fruit that makes clear apple jelly perfect for adding spices or herbs to .

I always make apple chutney – a spicy condiment with chilli, cloves and turmeric that goes fabulously with cheese. I also make apple jellies, taking immense satisfaction from the resultant clear viscosity, ranging in shade from pale gold to dark red depending on the skin of the apple used. What I haven’t done hitherto though is made much jam using apples, other than pairing them with brambles for the classic autumn jam. I’ve been ruminating on uses for apples – turnovers, tarte tatins, crumbles, pies – all of which involve the addition of sugar, spices such as cloves and cinnamon or caramel. Why not take those flavour profiles and make a jam? It’s not a new idea, there are various apple jam recipes available but I wanted to make an Apple Pie Jam – partly because I’ve been playing with traditional dessert flavours in jams and curds recently – rhubarb custard curd, black forest gateau jam, peach melba jam etc.

Bit of research yielded the following recipe from, which I’ve slightly tweaked to suit my own taste buds. Apple Pie Jam. It’s a thing you NEED in your life.

Apple Pie Jam (makes approximately 11 x 190g jars):

1.5 kg cooking apples (weighed after peeling and coring), half finely diced, half finely sliced
1 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
1 tsp allspice
1kg granulated sugar
325g dark muscovado sugar
Juice of 1 lemons
275g stoned dates, roughly chopped

Put the peeled apples (add the lemon juice as you chop them to prevent them browning too much) in a large pan with the cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, dates, sugar and two tea cups of water. Slowly heat until the sugar starts to melt and the apples release their juice. Increase the heat, stirring regularly to prevent the sugar catching on the bottom of the pan and burning. Put a small plate in the freezer.

Bring to the boil and boil until the apples have softened and the liquid has started to turn golden and reduce and the dates have begun to dissolve (you will still have some chunks of apple left through) – about 15-20 minutes. Continue to simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes but keep stirring regularly to stop it burning on the bottom – be careful and wear oven gloves for this and use a long handled spoon, as it can bubble up suddenly and scald you.

To test for a set, spoon a small amount of jam onto the cold plate from the freezer and run your finger down the middle – if it wrinkles and parts cleanly, then it’s ready. If not, continue to boil for a little while longer.

Decant into sterilised jars, (I pour just boiled water from the kettle into jars then dry them upside down in the oven at 120C for half an hour), and seal while warm to create a vacuum.

Allow to cool before labelling. Absolutely delicious on hot crumpets and also rather nice stirred into plain yogurt over porridge.

Found fruit – Apples in the city


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.

car park apples

car park apples


Red red red!

Red red red!

I was contacted by Paul Quigley from Norton Priory, a museum and garden in nearby Runcorn (  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 (, 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!

Mulled apple cider jelly

Mulled apple cider jelly

Apple Jelly:

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.