In my view British apples are one of the best things about the Autumn. With their varying hues of red, green, russet and gold and different textures and tastes their diversity is really something special….so special that they have their very own day! Apple Day is on October 21st and although we didn’t manage to celebrate it, we did get to enjoy our very own apple day the following weekend.
Anyone of a certain age that grew up in Britain will have eaten apples as part of their diet. We had them in our lunch boxes, as an after school snack or in crumble or pie for dinner. Many of us will no doubt, remember being told by our parents that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. These days it seems their advice was correct! For a start they really do have a lot of purported health benefits (offering preventive effects against all kinds of conditions from cancer and Alzheimer’s to detoxifying the liver and calming irritable bowl syndrome). They are great for the teeth and if this wasn’t enough they are delicious, amazingly versatile, cheap, plentiful and with so many varieties (according to the British food website in excess of 1200!!) that’s a lot of different apples to choose from.
Once upon a time we all loved our native fruits and appreciated they came in all shapes and sizes, but these days the supermarkets bombard us with shelves full of artificially ripened second-rate imports, all are a uniform size and shape which make todays consumer think that anything not conforming to this notion of ‘perfection’ is no good. My mother always said waste not want not and when we were growing up we certainly couldn’t afford to waste a thing. We grew our own produce and picked fruit from the hedgerow…and that was on the outskirts of London! We didn’t care about car fumes, we were just excited about finding free food. So what if it grew by the side of the road, we just washed it when we got home. Todays throwaway generation seem to be missing out on those simple pleasures. They have no idea how to live a sustainable way of life, they think its money that grows on tress and food only comes from the supermarket!. Does that make me sound old and grumpy? Probably. But I do think we should bring back hedgerow picking and scrumping…While I hope nobody ends up with an ASBO for scrumping, I really think it would do our kids good to learn about and treasure our natural and local resources and how to live a simpler way of life.
You’ve got the idea that I love apples, so I was really excited to be invited to the Dros Y Fenai, slow food group apple day, hosted by Alison and David of Halen Mon salt. The information sent to me said to bring along leftover apples which would be put into the apple press and turned into fresh squeezed apple juice. Great for my apple juice loving kid!
In fact the day was much more than this, it also taught our kids about our native apples, how they differ in flavour and to love them in all their forms, from the stray windfalls that blow to the ground, to the small unloved and rejected ones and the ones that look decidedly ugly. David and Alison have about 25 plus apple trees on their property and every year they harvest enough fruit to press and sell a couple of hundred bottles of juice. It was lovely being part of the juice making process and the kids got involved without hesitation. They really got stuck in with enthusiasm. First they washed the apples
then fed them into the apple chopper which turned them into a mush ready for the press
the mush was then scooped out into special gauze wrappers. These were piled one on top of the other in the apple press
before being pressed to squeeze out the juice into a massive bucket.
We also got to use the small juicer. Our apple supply was small in comparison to the hundreds stored in Davids barn, so it was much easier for the kids to use a smaller machine to produce their own bottles from their own fruit..
Once squeezed we eagerly tasted our juice. The Bramley produced a much sharper tasting juice that Davids mixture of Peasgood’s nonsuch, Bramley seedling and Adam’s Pearmain which was much sweeter.
The juice had a brownish look to it where it had started to oxidize so David added a teaspoon of vitamin C to restore its greenish colour. He explained that most people “drink with their eyes as well as their mouth”, they like to see apple juice that’s green, but its addition isn’t totally necessary.
The kids then bottled their juice and popped it into the boiler to pasteurize (which meant it would keep for a year….well thats if they didn’t drink it the minute they got home!). To pasteurize the bottles needed to heat in a covered pan to 75 degrees for 20 minutes.
While this was doing and before heading in for lunch we took a walk around the walled garden where most of the trees were. The kids went off to forage for good-looking wind falls. One tree, a Newton Wonder, another fab British cooking variety (only sweeter than a Bramley) had been left unpicked and so they swiftly set to clearing the branches and filling the basket provided (actually we all got involved).
The weather turned drizzly and we all headed into the warmth of the kitchen where Roger (retired chef) had prepared a lovely lunch. Pumpkin soup, bread, cheeses, salads, toffee apples for the kids, tart tatin and of course as much apple juice as we could drink!
The day was fantastic fun and the kids loved making their own juice to take home. They talked about it for several days afterwards and Aidan’s friend returned home full of praise and excitement.
It was equally successful for the adults and I’m sincerely hoping someone gets me a Dros y Fenai family membership for Christmas so we can enjoy many more hands on events for kids and adults.
A days apple pressing followed by lunch cost £5 a head for adults and £3 for children. You can find out more information about Slow food UK here or email firstname.lastname@example.org