Tuesday, 31 August 2010


On Saturday morning I climbed the apple tree at the bottom of the garden, discovering gravity as a barrage of golden, not quite so delicious, fell on my head and almost knocked me off the kitchen chair I was using for a leg up.  I then went into the house and steeped several kilos of them in four litres of Sainsbury's Basics Cider - delivered the day before to the mortification of my daughters who feared the driver would imagine they had bought it for a Notting Hill Carnival let's-get-wasted party - whereas their methods of inebriation are, apparently, a little more sophisticated.

'Oh yeah, it's my mum's,' as an explanation, didn't really improve the situation.

Undeterred I poured the mixture into the largest saucepan I own - big enough to boil a small baby (how I managed to resist that idea back in the day, I'm not sure), with several cinnamon sticks brought back from Grenada by my friend Kenrick, and turned up the heat for the hour it took to reduce them to mush.  Then the real fun began.  Out came my Williams and Sonoma tomato pulper, and into the funnel went the squished apples - cores spat out from one orifice and a river of fragrant apple sauce pouring out of the other - all over the worktop, completely missing the bowl.

Add 350 grams of sugar for every 500 grams of apples, says Sybil Kapoor.  But I only had 700 grams of granulated heroin, I mean Silver Spoon, and I had three kilos of apple sauce.  So I improvised - maple syrup, molasses, some brick hard demerera, and when I felt the mixture was sweet enough, I brought it to the boil as instructed, put on a pair of oven gloves ('protect your arms,' says Sybil) and stirred for twenty five minutes.

My eldest daughter appeared in her pyjamas at around 11 am and found me there - long hippy dress from Oxfam, her old school apron with her name embroidered on it, and a baseball cap for the Boston Celtics, two huge blue oven gloves and a pan the size of saturn, bubbling and spewing molten apple sauce that turned a dark, hazelnut brown as it cooked.

She looked at the wreckage of the kitchen - I was also making apricot puree and Arabic milk pudding and cheese and potato borek - and there were plates piled into pyramids in the sink and half assembled dishes scattered over the surfaces.

'What the f*** are you doing?' She muttered, wiping sleep out of her eyes, her hair awry (we all have a lot of hair - it's like the land that conditioner forgot in our house at the moment.)

'Cooking,' I said, somewhat unnecessarily, I thought.  'I'm making apple jelly from the apples in the garden.  It's fantastic.  I feel like the Amish.'

'Yeah, big on baseball caps, the Amish,' she said, disappearing seamlessly out of the door and retreating back to her bedroom where she hid for the rest of the day.

I was miffed.  I am woman, see me preserve.  From the land.  Grown by my very own hands.  Sod it - this is the stuff of Channel 4 primetime telly.  Okay, so Nigella puts lipstick on, as well as underwear, and she has people off camera to do the clearing up, and she wears little high heel slippers with marabou feathers, not flip flops.  But come on.

I stirred and stirred and stirred.  I sterilized containers.  I washed up.  I made pies.  I arranged my moulds on the kitchen table and, after both hands had lost all feeling and developed RSI, I poured out my preserves where they gelled instantly.  I felt like Diane Keaton in that film where she moves to Vermont and makes baby food.

I waited for the Emanuel Gospel Choir to burst into a spiritual but instead all I heard was the drip of the tap.  I made do with Laura Veirs instead, cut the jelly into squares and wrapped them up in greaseproof paper, drawing the label in my head and seeing it on the shelves at Carluccio's.

Daughter came back, sniffed and asked if she could put on some music that didn't sound like the woodcutter was dead.

'Praise my apple jelly,' I entreated.

She declined.

Skip forward two days.

Lukewarm has been pacing in the kitchen since the bowl of cereal I grudgingly allowed him at dawn, waiting for it to be time to eat.  Eldest daughter has made foul medames and baba ganoush.  There's humous, and boreq, and rice pudding sprinkled with almonds and ginger and a layer of apricot custard.  There's crispy arabic bread with thyme and halloumi.  There's also a glistening wedge of Old English Apple Cheese, straight from the Google annals of the Sunday Times.

At noon the starter's pistol goes off as Nel arrives for brunch. The Carnival is groaning like a convoy of supertankers with the toothache on Ladbroke Grove, the base a pulse of pain, and underneath the angry drone of the police helicopters in our garden, plates are filled with gorgeous food.

Nel is impressed with my jelly making enterprise which I tell her I made from scratch.

'From scratch?'

'Yep - picked the apples myself.'

'How long did it take you?'

'Oh about three hours'.

'You must try some.'  I urge Lukewarm, spreading a little of it on to a slice of manchego and handing it to him.

'Yeah,' he says.  'It's good.'

I wait for more.

He chews.

'What do you do with it?'

'Eat it on cheese.'


'That's about it.'

'Oh. It tastes just like - erm - well - apples.'

And, it's true.  Three hours, two pots, 2nd degree burns and a piece of $50 plastic kit imported from the States, and it turns out that if you boil apples in cider what you get, in the end, is just that:


I have two kilos of it, if anyone's interested.