Apples and autumn are an obvious pairing: the fruit swelling on the trees ready to be picked as the temperature drops. It can feel like they’re everywhere: from those species of crab apples which are candy red that, if steeped in vodka, will turn the schnapps a delicate, demure pink, to the big fat bramleys or cookers, bulbous and acid green, that when they fall to the ground, cause curious pigeons to become drunk on the fermented fruit, staggering and snoozing. It would be criminal not to make the most of this autumnal bounty.
I tend to combine eating apples and cooking apples in my puddings if I can, which gives a contrast in texture between the soft, compotey cooked cooking apples, and the eating apples which retain their shape, and brings an irresistable sweet-sour sharpness to the proceedings.
And when it comes to flavour it’s not just their seasonality that make apples appropriate for autumn: the fruit cries out for warming spices, for cinnamon or nutmeg, clove, or even cardamom or black pepper, for all the things we crave in the colder months.
A really great crumble must be the starting point for any autumnal cooking, and this is a really, really good crumble: rubbly and golden, studden with oats and nuts. This one is mixed with blackberries, but needn’t if you’re trying to work through as much of your apple glut as possible.
Classics are classics for a reason: it’s hard to beat a traditional apple pie, steaming and blistered from the oven, with sugar-dotted pastry – this is great with custard, thick cream or ice cream, but I don’t think you can beat a silly explosion of squirty cream from the can. Or keep it simple with an old-fashioned apple cake, lightly spiced and caramelly from the muscovado sugar.
It’s terribly simple to turn a bramley apple into an apple compote or sauce: peel and core one or two bramley apples, and cut them into chunks. Pop into a small pan, along with a splash of water and, if you’re planning on using it to accompany something sweet, a little vanilla. Cover and cook gently until the apple is completely soft and smooth, stirring occasionally to ensure the apple doesn’t catch and brown on the bottom of the pan. I like a spoonful of this cold, straight from the fridge, on hot creamy porridge, but it’s also a great accompaniment to a roasted joint of pork, or cold cut sandwiches.
If you’re looking to make even more of the season’s bounty, you can make a cobnut cake with the Kentish nuts that can fleetingly be found in British grocers; the cake can be spiked with ground ginger and, traditionally, is served with apple compote (I like it sliced, toasted and buttered).
As Bonfire Night approaches, my favourite treat is this toffee apple cake, a dark sponge dotted with apples, and then pierced and soaked – like a Southern American poke cake, or a lemon drizzle cake – with a dark toffee sauce. Or you can go really lean into Bonfire food and make proper toffee apples.
While generally too sour to eat raw, crab apples have a wonderful flavour, as well as a high pectin content so are perfect for apple jellies to be served alongside meat or cheese – or you can have Christmas sorted by steeping them in vodka now and making extremely giftable crab apple schnapps for your loved ones.
If Christmas is on your mind, then baked apples stuffed with boozy-soaked dried fruit and zest and baked until soft might get you into the mood and sustain you until the festive season arrives.