Toffee (crab) Apples

I always add crabapples to my cider. They add a bit of extra bite to a blend of cooking apples, if you’re using them (like I do) because you can’t get your hands on true cider apples, like the marvellously named ‘Slack my Girdle’, ‘Broxwood Foxwhelp’ and ‘Tom Putt’.  (These varieties are available in New Zealand, though you’ll have to get your local garden centre to order them for you. )

I have three favourite crabapples. Purely for spring beauty, I adore Malus ioensis ‘Plena’. This ornamental variety doesn’t produce proper fruit – it blows everything in its arsenal on a marvellous display of bright pinky-red buds that open to pale pink spring blossoms.

But for fruit, I think ‘Jack Humm’ and ‘Jelly King’ are the perfect pair. ‘Jack Humm’ has masses of vibrant red fruit, so vibrant that they look like those small fake red apples sold as Christmas decorations. The fruit is slightly oval in shape, and just utterly, utterly beautiful in autumn.

‘Jelly King’ isn’t quite as spectacular but, as its name suggests, its blushing orange/red fruit make lovely crabapple jelly. It’s absolutely prolific and the birds tend to leave the fruit alone until quite late in autumn. But, more importantly, I like ‘Jelly King’ because it’s perfect for making teeny tiny toffee apples. I made a batch of them today in between stirring the quince paste and scooping feijoas into jars to preserve.

Toffee apples are never as nice as you think they’re going to be. Not just because you end up with sticky gloop all over your face, but because the toffee’s generally too sweet to eat in such a large dose, and the apple is invariably all soft and mushy underneath. Which is where the crabapple really comes into its own: crabapples are crisp,tart and utterly terrific-tasting with a coat of toffee.

To make a dozen toffee crabapples, wipe the fruit, twist out the stalks and cut out the little hard bit on the base of each apple. (I’m sure there’s a technical horticultural term for this but blowed if I can think of it right now.) Then press a kebab stick into each apple.

To make the toffee, you need 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vinegar (use cider vinegar if you have it, otherwise white vinegar), 1 teaspoon butter, a couple of drops of red food colouring and 3 tablespoons water. Place in a small pot and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for 2-3 minutes, until a small dribble dropped into a cup of cold water turns hard and thread-like. Don’t take your eye off it as it turns from red clear toffee to burnt brown caramel in a matter of seconds. Take the pot off the heat, tilt it to one side and then dip the apples in, give them a slow spin to evenly coat in toffee, then place on a piece of baking paper on a tray. The toffee only takes a minute or two to set, which is about as long as it will also take you to chomp down the first one… and then a second…

Bottling it up

I’m spending this weekend slaving over a hot stove… and I couldn’t be happier. I’m making like a squirrel (albeit a squirrel armed with a fruit peeler, corer, Agee jars and an old Perfit Seal Home Preserver) and packing the pantry with preserves. Last weekend we dealt to most of the pears; this weekend I’ve got quinces, apples and feijoas to pickle, brew and bottle.

Jason came home today with an aromatic quince from one of the neighbours’ trees. “What’s this?” he said. (The neighbour didn’t know either.)  “A quince,” I said. But little did he know that, in one of those funny coincidences, I had a whole box of them in the back of my car too. I got them from my colleague Rachel, whose parents have amazing quince trees in their beautiful garden in Waimamaku in Northland. I promised Rachel that I’d give her a bottle of preserved quinces in return for the raw fruit, though since then I’ve found a recipe on the net for quince vodka. I suspect she’d rather like that too! I’m also going to make quince paste, which is really just fancy boiled-down quince jam.

This evening, just before it got dark, I put on my raincoat (it has rained here all day) and whipped out to the orchard to pick the last bucket of ‘Winter Banana’ and ‘Liberty’ apples, plus a good handful of ‘Jelly King’ crabapples. I’ll use some of the crabapples to add a bit of extra bite to my next batch of Walter the Saint’s Speedy cider (this recipe is fairly legendary in NZ Gardener circles, as the first time I made it it exploded in my lounge like a sugar bomb).

I’m going to use that speedy cider recipe to put down a few bottles of pear cider and some feijoa wine. And I’m keen to try this recipe from Kumeu gardener Linda Isbister, who shared it with NZ Gardener a couple of years back. You need: 5kg of feijoas (scoop out the flesh, freeze, thaw then squash it), 6 litres of boiling water and 2 camden tablets (from home brewing stores). Place in a big bucket with a lid and stir twice a day for three days. Then strain into another bucket (cover it with cheesecloth to keep the bugs out) or a large fermenting bin (fitted with an airlock if possible) and add one sachet of wine yeast and 2 teaspoons of yeast nutrients (both from home brewing stores), plus 4kg of sugar and another 2 litres of water. Leave until it stops bubbling… which could be a month, or several. Then bottle. Yum!