Now it may seem hypocritical to post one day about healthy eating and give a recipe for an alcoholic treat the next. I assure you it's not! Buying a bottle of something from the supermarket is easy, and its just as easy to sit and work your way through quite a bit of it unawares. But if you go out and gather something from the hedge (maybe walking or cycling there?), add it to a jar of alcohol and then wait for at least a couple of months, you are going to savour that special homemade delicacy in small glassfuls.
We whizzed past a whole hedgeful of wild fruit on an off road bike ride the other day, with me exclaiming wistfully, 'look, more huge sloes! aah, some late blackberries! Gosh, some crab apples!' and ruing my lack of carrier bag. I was determined to go back and harvest some of that delicious free stuff, so I rode up the near vertical hill (see we were going down it the other way before!) with my empty panniers at the ready. The sloes were like damsons, and I sang with the sun on my back as I climbed over the fence and helped myself. I only managed to scrump a few crab apples as the best ones were just too high up, but I still found enough for a couple of litres of apple brandy to warm and comfort on winter nights.
Crab Apple Brandy
First catch your crab apples and see how many you have. you can make up the quantity with some fragrant eating apples such as Worcester or some of the quinces that are arriving now. Cut the apples in half and aim to fill a jar half full with them. Cover with brandy to twice the volume - ie; a pint of apples to two pints of brandy. Shake in a little sugar, not more than a tablespoon per 70cl bottle and weight the apples down with something ceramic or glass, but most definitely not metal. If you don't weight it then the apples on top will oxidise and slightly alter the flavour and darken the colour a little too. It won't spoil your eventual enjoyment if you can't find an inert weight.
Put the jar into a cupboard or at least out of direct sunlight and shake it occasionally for a week. After a week get a clean teaspoon and taste a little bit. If it's really sharp already then take the apples out, add another spoonful of sugar - use your judgement - and seal it up for a couple of months (well almost until Christmas). If it's not sharp at all, leave the apples another week or two and then test again. You don't want something sharp, just appley - it’s just that crab apples vary hugely in sharpness. Use the apples to make a preserve, mincemeat or chop them into your Christmas cake mixture.