Even now, in the depths of winter, there is a crush around the apple stall at the market and, failing that, the greengrocer still has Russets in fine fettle. The Coxes, always late to the party, are at their heartiest right now and for a few weeks to come. You can rummage respectfully, taking care not to bruise, looking for something with a deep fragrance and skin unblemished enough to eat without peeling. I have never known this kitchen without an apple or two. An apple to crunch absentmindedly or to bake or to slice for a tart. Others to shave into a salad of walnuts and celeriac or to pair with cheese. And then there are those I cook for breakfast.
Firm, not overly sweet varieties, such as the Cox, are my favourite for stewing. A bowl of stewed Coxes sits in the fridge right now. I make it once a week in the cold months. If I have time, the fruit, roughly chopped and unpeeled, will have been simmered with a little bag of cloves, cinnamon and allspice berries. If not, then baked in a dish on the shelf under the Sunday roast, their snowy fluff scooped out of the skins and into a bowl.
This squirrel’s store of stewed apple may be sweetened or not, depending on the variety. As a rule I add sugar to none save the most tart of Bramleys. An apple purée is an excellent morning call stirred into warm, sweet rice pudding or a bowl of oat porridge. Sometimes, it is eaten freckled with chia, hemp or linseed and berries, and served with a spoonful of cream cheese. However you choose to use it, a bowl of stewed apple is a useful thing to have around.
This, traditionally, is the week of wassailing – the ancient country ritual where apple orchards are toasted with cider and song. There is much temptation to do the same to my little Discovery tree at the top of the garden. An uptight city garden such as mine could do with a bit of pagan revelry.
Shallot and apple tart
An upside-down savoury tart, this is something I have put on the table many a time, but made with pears. This time I used apples.
For the pastry:
plain flour 225g
egg yolk 1
thyme leaves 2 tsp
Parmesan 4 tbsp, finely grated
banana shallots 4, medium
olive oil 2 tbsp
You will also need a tarte tatin tin or a metal-handled frying pan measuring 24cm in diameter.
Put the flour into the bowl of food processor, add the butter in small pieces and process to the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, thyme leaves and grated Parmesan, process briefly, then transfer to a lightly floured board and bring together into a ball. Of course you can do this by hand, rubbing the butter and flour together with your thumb and fingertips (a peaceful flour-dusted thing to do), then fold in the yolk, thyme and cheese. Wrap in clingfilm or greaseproof paper and leave to rest.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Peel the shallots, then halve each lengthways. Melt the butter with the oil in the tatin tin or frying pan over a moderate heat, then add the shallots, cut side down. Let the shallots brown lightly then turn them to let the other side colour. Meanwhile, halve, core and slice each apple into 8 segments. Remove the shallots from the pan, then add the apples, letting them soften and turn lightly gold. Scatter a heaped tablespoon of grated Parmesan over the pan, then return the shallots.
Roll the pastry out to a good 3cm larger than the tin or frying pan. Lay the pastry over the shallots and apples, tucking in the overhanging dough. Bake for 25 minutes until the pastry is pale biscuit-coloured and the butter is bubbling round the edges. Remove from the oven, leave to settle for 10 minutes then turn out on to a serving plate.
Barley porridge with mulled apples
apple juice 250ml
apples 3, large
allspice berries 3
cinnamon stick ½
orange peel 3cm strip
sugar optional/to taste
medium oatmeal 50g
rolled barley flakes 150g
cream cheese 100g
liquid honey 2 tbsp
chia seeds 4 tsp
golden linseed 2 tsp
Pour the apple juice into a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, roughly chop the apples, removing their cores and pips and add to the juice. Place the cloves, cinnamon stick, allspice berries and orange peel in a piece of muslin, secure with string and tuck among the apples.
Bring the apple juice, apples and spices to the boil then let the apples simmer for about 15 minutes until they have started to collapse and have a texture somewhere between purée and stewed apple. Check the sweetness – you may not need any sugar. Stir in the butter and a little sugar or none, as you wish. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Scatter the oatmeal over a shallow pan and toast till golden, shaking the grains to encourage even cooking. Put the barley flakes in a saucepan, pour in the milk, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil, stirring regularly. Lower the heat, and let the porridge simmer for about 6 minutes until it thickens, then remove from the heat.
In a small bowl, lightly mix together the cream cheese and honey. (Over-mix and it will curdle.)
Put the blueberries in a pan, add the water and bring to the boil. When the berries start to burst, set aside. Grind the linseed a little using a pestle and mortar. Spoon the porridge into deep bowls, add some of the warm, mulled apple, a spoonful of cream cheese and honey, the linseed and chia seeds and lastly a trickle of poached blueberries.
Email Nigel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @NigelSlater