October’s Invisible Food Walk was themed around the autumnal joys of apples and pears (the real ones, not the Cockney version) and I was amazed to discover that I could pick both within five minutes walk of my house.
We visited the pear tree in the Loughborough Estate off Angell Road and using a fishing rod with a handy blade attached, honed our skills at cutting through the stems and sending the large green pears downwards, like a fruity version of a fairground game! I’m not sure what variety of pears these are, but they tasted pretty good after being slowly poached in wine and spices as a light autumnal dessert after some goat stew.
Further round the corner in the community herb garden at Angell Town we came across our apples. Beautiful little cherry sized crabapples to be precise. There are three decent sized trees and they were absolutely groaning with fruit. With a bit of concentration and time, I managed to pick 8lbs of the most perfect looking little apples and carried them home with glee, planning to work on the domestic skills I picked up making quince jelly a few weeks ago and make both crabapple jelly and cheese with them.*
As I mentioned when I made the quince jelly, you can keep the leftover pulp after the juice has drained out and make a fruit cheese with it, similar to the Iberian classic membrillo which is usually eaten with cold cuts and cheeses. I made the rookie mistake of chucking out my quince pulp, but I knew better this time and was keen to try this tantalising recipe for crabapple and chilli cheese.
I removed the stalks from the crabapples, checked for any wee beasties and then washed them well, before they were just covered with water and simmered until soft. This took about 30 minutes or so. Once cooled they all went into a old pillowcase that was masquerading as a jelly bag and dripped gently for the next 24 or so hours. The juice was a beautiful shade of sugar pink and as thick as syrup while the pulp was a gorgeous orangey colour. I kept the 3 pints or so of juice aside for jelly and got cracking at sieving the pulp to remove the pips and skins.
This took quite some time and was made bearable by having a swift gin and tonic being to hand. I used a regular sieve and the textured rice paddle that came with my rice cooker and this worked almost as well as having a minion to help. The sieved pulp was the most glorious shade of soft tangerine and smelt delightfully tangy and apple-y. I had roughly 1.8 kilos of it left and split it into two batches for the making the cheese. The first batch was 800 grams and had 620 grams of sugar added to it which immediately loosened it up enough to make it easy to stir.
It went on the electric cooker at a high heat until it began to huff and puff and spit as it reached boiling. Since you’re dealing with molten sugar, it’s a good idea to wear an oven glove while stirring it. Once it gets to this stage, turn it down to a low heat to simmer until it thickens up and starts to come away from the sides of pan. Watch it carefully once this happens and keep stirring well. It is ready once you can draw a spatula or spoon through it and part it like a stickier version of the Red Sea. Add your chopped chillies at this point as you don’t want to really cook them too much. (I used one Scotch Bonnet and two birdseyes for this amount of pulp) Turn the heat off and transfer the cheese into your sterilised receptacle.
I used the same small jars from Ikea that I used for the quince jelly (omitting the fun moment where I melted all the lids this time!) and filled 5 of these 150ml jars with the chilli cheese. This would have been easier with high jars, but this is a minor quibble. These were covered with greaseproof circles and sealed with cellophane before being left to cool.
I then repeated the whole thing with the second batch of pulp. This one was around 1200 grams of pulp and around 960 grams of sugar. I decided to make this one of a little bit different and added in around 8 heads of star anise to infuse the cheese as it cooked. This batch was just as easy to make as the previous one and in around 40 minutes I had another 5 jars of cheese ready and bottled. The leftover amount went into a greased brownie pan to set like membrillo itself so that it will be darker and firmer than the bottled cheese. I left it in the oven overnight to dry out and firm up and went back to making the crabapple jelly.
We then had some of the crabapple cheese with a delicious picnic style meal the next day and it went amazing well with the rare roast beef, Pexommier cheese and the basil infused olives. It is intensely apple flavoured, soft and sweet, but with a kick of chilli that stops it from being cloying. I think it would be particularly good with anything pork based, although I’m keen to try it with a dessert too.
The cheese is incredibly simple to make once the sieving is done. But even this stage isn’t a big enough deal to avoid making this lovely side dish if you’re already doing a jelly with your foraged produce. Embrace autumn’s bounty and turn your quinces, crabapples or medlars into a treat that will add some autumnal sunshine to even the darkest winter day and turn your leftovers into some truly special with fruit cheese!
*As you can see the fruit cheese is dairy free.