I’ve had an apple tree in my garden for as long as I can remember. When I lived with my parents in Cambridge, our neighbour’s apple tree overhung our garden and reliably dropped large quantities of cooking apples onto the lawn every autumn. My house in York, by happy coincidence, also has an apple tree in the garden, but this time it is entirely mine and entirely my lawn that bears the brunt of the October windfall.
I can’t bear to see those windfall apples go to waste. Inevitably, some will. They will be too badly bruised to use, a tell-tale russet blotch on their side hinting at the mangled, mushy flesh within. Or they will be peppered with too many worm holes to make it worth trying to cut them out. Or they will have fallen into my pond, and I’m not sure I want to eat an apple that has been marinating in pond water for a few days.
Last weekend, though, I decided to mow the lawn, which involved rounding up all the windfall apples and raking them into the flowerbeds. I figured I’d select those still culinarily viable from the batch, and was expecting maybe a few handfuls. However, the length of the grass had provided a handy natural cushion for the fruit, meaning that about seventy per cent of the apples were still intact. Not a bruise or a worm hole in sight. I put them on the garden table and left them for the following weekend, when I planned to embark on a preserving and storing mission. There must have been at least eight or nine kilos.
What to do with a glut of apples? I’m a little bit unconventional when it comes to this question. Most people, I’m fairly certain, would commence a diet of apple crumbles, apple pies and apple cakes. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have at least a couple of crumbles and cakes planned for the near future. But when I have a glut of apples, there are a couple of other things I like to do first.
The first is to boil up peeled, cored and chopped apple into a foamy, smooth puree. This I then decant into 350g portions and freeze. Why? Because it’s the base ingredient for my homemade granola recipe, and means that I can have (almost) instant home-baked granola throughout the year without needing to faff around buying, peeling, coring, dicing and boiling a couple of apples all for a measly 350g of puree. It’s also useful for making cakes, incidentally, where you can use it to replace some of the butter for a vaguely healthier concoction.
The second glut recipe is apple jam.
I have a question. Why is apple jam not more of a thing?
I first discovered this unconventional use for apples probably around four or five years ago, with the apples from the tree in Cambridge. I honestly have no idea why I decided to make apple jam, because – as I say – apple jam is not a common concept and there are barely any recipes out there. I had also never eaten apple jam before – I bet you haven’t either. But I boiled up those apples with some spices, dark sugar, dates and sultanas, and I never looked back.
Apple jam is utterly delicious, and has so many things to recommend it. Firstly, it tastes like apple pie. But you can also spread it on toast. Apple pie BUT ALSO spread on toast? What’s not to love?
Secondly, apples are very high in pectin, meaning this jam sets like an absolute dream with no need for fancy jam sugar, added pectin or anything like that. It’s pretty quick to make, too, taking less than two hours from start to finish (if you include peeling and coring time – it’s lengthy but I recommend putting on some loud dance music and just getting stuck in).
Thirdly, you end up with a lovely textured jam – not a nondescript, uniform mass of gloopy colour, but a dark, autumnal, russet-coloured vat of sugary deliciousness that will make your kitchen smell like Christmas and that is full of lovely chunky pieces of apple that don’t dissolve in the sugar. The secret is to chop half the apples into dice – they will dissolve – and the rest into thin slices – they will keep their shape and provide that nice texture.
Seriously, it completely perplexes me. Why don’t you see apple jam in the shops? Why aren’t there more recipes out there on the internet? There are plenty for apple jelly (a faff involving straining things through muslin…who has time?!), and apple and blackberry jam, but nothing for pure and simple sugary apple preserve.
So, in the spirit of introducing you to this wonderful creation, here’s my recipe for apple jam. I include cinnamon and cloves because it’s silly to have apples without them, really, and for the aforementioned smell of Christmas/apple pie taste. I also include nearly a third brown sugar instead of all white, to give a lovely toffee flavour to the apples which is enhanced by the addition of chopped dates. These meld beautifully into the apple mixture, their caramel-scented sugars almost melting, giving little pockets of butterscotch goodness in every mouthful.
Making this jam is the perfect autumn activity. Not only will your kitchen smell incredible, but the amount of satisfaction you will get from transforming a pan full of anaemic apple pieces into a cauldron of incredible honey-coloured, glowing, thick golden preserve is unbeatable. This jam is the colour of autumn leaves, and smells of sugary warmth and spice.
Once again, I ask, why aren’t we a nation of avid apple jam fans? It’s time to change things.
Spiced apple and date jam (makes approximately 10 x 450g jars):
- 3kg cooking apples (weighed after peeling and coring), half finely diced, half finely sliced
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 12 cloves
- 2kg granulated sugar
- 750g light muscovado sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 550g stoned dates, roughly chopped
Put the apples in a large pan (you might have to split this between two large pans) with the cinnamon sticks, cloves and sugar. Squeeze over the lemon juice. Slowly heat until the apples start to release liquid and the sugar starts to melt. Increase the heat until everything is watery, 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 (you will still have some chunks of apple left through) – about 15-20 minutes. Add the dates, then continue to simmer for about 30 minutes to an hour. Keep stirring regularly to stop it burning on the bottom – be careful and wear oven gloves for this, though, because it will bubble volcanically and hurt if it splashes onto you. Especially if it splashes into your eyes. I can tell you that from bitter experience.
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 sterilise mine by washing in hot soapy water then drying upside down in the oven at 120C for half an hour), cover with wax discs, and seal.