There’s not much that tastes better, or at least seems like it tastes better, than free food. When I was in the sixth form I did Art at a different school (there were three schools in a consortium) and for some unknown reason the first day I was there and I went to the lunch hall the dinner lady handed me voucher for a free meal. No explanation, and it happened every time. The food was as poor as you’d imagine, but it was free, and that gave it an added sweetness, and savouriness. Catching a fish, growing your own herbs, finding and eating roadkill (which I have done), and even going through supermarket bins for thrown-away-but-perfectly-alright comestibles (yes, I’ve done that too and I’m proud of it) all feel great because you’re feeding yourself well without lining the pockets of ‘the man’.
One of our twitter followers (Michael T Williams @mtownsendw) has requested a recipe for Crab Apple Cheese and it just so happens that I made some a few years ago after a visit to my excellent aunt and uncle’s cottage in Pembrokeshire. They’ve a tree in their garden which was drooping under it’s heavy crop of tiny bright yellow crab apples, and having been gripped by an urge to preserve and forage as much as I could that autumn I gathered a couple of stout carrier bags full. In addition to the Crab Apple Cheese I also made Sloe Gin, Sloe Vodka (which, with a lot less sugar than the tradition gin recipe is much nicer, being less medicinal) and Haw Ketchup (with a cool picture of a 50s pin-up on the label).
It’s a bit early to make this I realise, since you’ll want to pick your crab apples in about a months time (or thereabouts), but you can spend the next few weeks planning your trip and getting the things you need together. The recipe below uses just a touch of spice to give it a warming, almost mulled flavour and the orange blossom water adds a subtle Mediterranean perfume. And the crab apples themselves impart a slight astringency which really works with the sugar and the creaminess of the cheese which you will doubtless pair this with. That said a spoonful or two is also great added to gravy. Especially with pork.
6 lb crab apples
2 pints water
2 pints cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
Wash and roughly chop the apples and place them into a big pan with the water and cider and bring to the boil until everything is really soft. Then push it through a sieve.
Weigh the pulp and for every pound of pulp add 3/4 pound of sugar. Mix it all together and return to the pan, add the other ingredients, and simmer long and slow until the mixture is thick. You should (depending on how deep the mixture sits in the pan) be able to draw your spoon through it and leave a line of exposed pan base before the mixture runs back on itself. It’s quite tricky and I’ve gone too far before and made a hard jelly which you don’t want. You want something cuttable and spreadable, a similar but slightly thicker consistency to a good cream cheese. The best thing to do it when you think you might be close is turn off the heat, spoon a little onto a cold plate, stick it in the freezer for five minutes and then check it’s state. If it’s too runny, simmer for another five minutes and check again and keep doing this until it’s just right.
When it’s done you can spoon it into sterilised jars, or better still, and more like it’s Spanish quince-based cousin Membrillo, set it it a mould – a loaf tin which you’ve greased with some glycerine, or just a square-sided tupperware container, and leave it to go firm. You can then cut off nice thick slices, wrap them in greaseproof paper, and feel like you’re in charge of a classy delicatessen. A slice looks particularly good if it’s got a single clove in it too.