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What to do with Wild Apples

Wild Apples - foraging recipes“One does not walk into the forest and accuse the trees of being off-centre, nor do they visit the shore and call the waves imperfect, so why do why look at ourselves this way?” A great quote from Tao Te Ching for which the same can be said of our fruit. In this age of perfectly plump and shiny supermarket fruit, a naturally grown apple with a scar on its skin or unbalanced proportions is regarded with an upturned nose but it shouldn't be so. To me, the occasional scar on a piece of fruit needs no apology, it says that this one beat the odds to survive (until I eat it of course!) and it says it likely did so without being tainted by pesticides in the process.

I do find it amusing (and a little sad) that us Brits tut and scoff at the very idea of enforced EU regulations and beauty standards for our supermarket fruit and veg, yet skip over the marked and select only the unblemished for our own baskets - thereby ensuring the shallow and wasteful cycle continues.

wild apples, almost ripe - foraging recipesThe UK is famous for an abundant apple harvest, them being the focus of a myriad of village fetes and festivals throughout the Autumn season. Despite our nations love of the firm fruit, year after year many ancient orchards are disappearing and isolated trees stand surrounded by their own rotting offerings, ignored in favour of those shipped in from the rest of the world instead. It's a sad fact, though the silver lining is these great round jewels of the hedgerows belong to none other than those of us willing to pick them! Depending on the variety you've found, of which there are a great many, they taste just as good as anything you can buy in the supermarket – or better since they're free! Free food always is the sweetest!

freshly washed English apple with leaf attached - foraging recipesNote: I can't imagine anyone these days being arrested for scrumping since most trees produce far more than a single household wants to make use of, though it's still best to ask permission from the owner of the land, plus you might just learn something... I learned from a local farmer that the apple trees I had my eye on had mostly likely grown from discarded cores by the workers of the clay-conveyors that once snaked across the land to feed the historical brick kilns. I love that kind of story, it reminds me that what we might think of as 'wild' these days is often not, then what does wild really mean anyway other than a kind of natural independence?


Despite popular belief, the much smaller variety called Crab Apples are in fact edible, they're just extremely sour. The pips are toxic in large amounts, but then so are the pips of regular apples. I've read reports that if you can somehow bear eating a large amount of crab apples raw, they'll likely give you a belly ache for a while but I can't imagine anyone finishing more than one that way! They were too sour even for our horse, back in his day, who would often be tempted to have a nibble but spit them out and pull faces! Crab Apples are for using wherever you want a nice sharp tang and generally by mellowing with plenty of sugar first. Of course, as with all wild foods, make sure that you're picking from the right plant but I'm not personally aware of anything nasty that you could rightfully confuse with an apple.


So by some means you have yourselves a fat sack of apples - what the heck should you do with them all, besides the obvious crumble?

one bad apple to spoil the bunch - foraging recipes + tipsFirst things first, get sorting. Remember the old adage 'it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch'? It's true, an apple that's slightly bruised and that looked fine yesterday can rot surprisingly quickly – and if you leave them all together for a couple of days before getting round to dealing with them you may end up with a bag full of rotten apples instead of the refreshing sweet treats you were hoping for! Get comfortable and pick through the bag, checking each apple individually for pest holes and bruising. Separate your apples into two categories; those without bruises or suspicious holes for eating as they are (remember the odd scar in the skin is absolutely fine), and those with holes and bruises for  immediate baking and preserving (you can cut away the damage and suspicious spots). I like to use this opportunity to give each eating apple a quick clean up with a damp cloth, removing any spider webs, mud or 'other residues'. Make sure to check the top and bottom of the apple carefully for a hole or evidence of excavation that means that there might be a worm hidden away inside - and what's worse than finding a worm in your apple when you've taken a bite? Yep, half a worm is FAR worse!


They're sorted, what next?

You could briefly grill slices on the BBQ to serve with sausages or pork burgers, turn them into apple sauce (see below), or chop/grate some into the mixture for your own home-made pork and apple burgers.

carrot & apple loaf recipeFor dessert transform chopped or grated apple into cakes, scones, muffins and pies – all very different from a crumble! Chewy brown sugar apple cookies or blondies would be incredible...

Enjoy them later as dried apple rings and tangy leather snacks, make juice, smoothies or cider. Put them on your breakfast, bob for them, decorate your house, or skewer on a stick and dip in toffee... as you can see the limit really is your imagination! Let us know what you plan to do with them in the comments below.


cooking apples for apple sauce - foraging recipesTo make a cooked Apple sauce; peel and chop your apples, discarding the core and any areas that are bruised or that a worm may have been living in. To slow the browning process drop the chopped pieces into a bowl of water containing the juice of half a lemon until you're ready to cook them. Allow just enough water to coat the bottom of the pan and simmer until softened, puree with a blender if you like and pop your apple sauce into tubs to freeze. No extra sugar or flavourings required. The colour and final sweet/tartness depends on the variety you are working with – the fruit from my Mums 'eating apple' tree has lovely pink inclusions in its flesh and results in an extremely sweet, pink sauce!

apple sauce portions - foraging recipesThis basic apple sauce makes a great base for lots of fruit leather recipes, can apparently be used in baking in place of butter though I've not yet tried it, and also tastes great just as it is with sausages or a nice roasted joint of pork. Just allow it to defrost and do what you like with it!


The dehydrating process is equally simple; peel your apples and slice into ¼ inch cubes, wedges or slices omitting the tough core, too thin and they will be hard and brittle, too large and they'll still be wet in the middle (and probably start growing fuzz) three days of drying later. Try to keep the sizes the same so they dry at the same pace.

Dry in a low oven or in a dehydrator for anywhere between 6-12 hours until they are a spongy texture with no obvious moisture remaining, you might have to munch a few to 'test' them... Include a sprinkling of cinnamon, if you like the flavour, personally I prefer to leave the apple to speak for itself. Once they're dry, store in an airtight container in a cool and dry place and enjoy as chewy snacks, or with your porridge or muesli.


As with all things you can buy a myriad of gadgets to ease the processing, ranging from coring tools to nifty rotary combined corer-and-peelers. Do you need them? No you don't need them, you can effectively peel your apples with a knife or a potato peeler and likewise you can remove the core from your slices with a knife or cookie cutter. Still do I want one? Yes, yes I do! My thumb certainly knows we've been processing a lot of apples this week, and the gadgets are a lot cheaper than I had expected - I just need to find space to store one...


So there you are - we hope you've found this article useful, let us know what you thought and what you'll be doing with your own apples in the comments below.


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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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