Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Dorset Apple Cake and Sloe Gin

Is it me or has it been a really good year for apples? We seem to have tons in our garden, as does my father-in-law, in fact I have so many apples I think I may officially have a glut. I suppose the beauty of apples is that if they are stored properly they will keep for a long time, but if you're like me, and a bit short of suitable storage space (full shed and no garage) it is probably best to think of dealing with them in the kitchen. So soon I will be jelly-ing and chutney-ing and plain old pulping until I have used every morsel of apple-y loveliness.
But before I go full throttle into preserving mania I thought I'd have a go at baking a Dorset Apple Cake. Now, I searched through all of my vintage and regional cookbooks looking for a good apple cake recipes and quite frankly it did my head in. Some recipes used the rubbing in method, some used the creaming method, some were resoundingly anti-spice, and others were very pro-spice. Some added raisins, some added cider, but all of them stated that you should use Bramley apples, which was a complete pain in the rear because my apples are eaters and not cookers. It seems to me that despite the Bramley proviso the Dorset Apple Cake, like most country food, is a movable feast, changing in ingredients and dependent on what a particular housewife had in her pantry from one September to the next. Therefore, gentle reader, I did the sensible and frugal thing and found a recipe which conformed to the contents of my baking cupboard.

The result was the above symphony in brown. I am obviously having a bit of a 1970s kick. Brown plate, brown cake, brown table runner, but you get the idea. You can find the recipe I used here. Yes, I rejected the old (books) in favour of the new (Internet) and I think the result was pretty good. Oh, and you're meant to serve it with clotted cream, which is always my favourite serving suggestion. Also, I did not buy Bramleys but stuck with my windfall eaters and the cake was still moist even though the apples retained their shape. For another good windfall apple recipe please visit Monix.

What could be more wholesome and innocent than a home grown apple? I don't know the answer to that one but I do know that it ain't sloe gin. Sloe gin is wicked, wicked stuff...but I like it. It's a little early to go picking sloes, but I think it may be a good idea to post a recipe now so that anyone who fancies a bit of foraging can get their eye in now a scope out a good bush or two.
Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn and are small purple fruits that look like tiny damsons. They're too bitter to eat but are great in cordials, jams and, more traditionally, in gin. The Blackthorn is a thorny old brute and it seems to me that the sloes like to nestle right amongst its inner branches so that foraging for them is always a bit of a painful affair, all in all you need to be dedicated to do it. There are all sorts of bits of advice out there on the best time to pick sloes and how to make the gin, in fact there's forum dedicated to sloe gin! Some say that you must pick them after the first frost, some say that November is the best month, some say October, some say you can pick them slightly unripe in late September and put them in the freezer for 24 hours to mimic a November frost: controversy reigns when it comes to the humble and prickly sloe. I prefer to find a bush and every now and then from late September onwards just have a quick feel of the sloes if they give a little then they're ready. Yes, I'm a secret sloe fondler.
Once you're home you can settle down at the kitchen table, pop the radio on, break out the gin and make the liqueur. Here's how.
If you're lucky enough to find two pounds of sloes, wash and then prick the fruit with a cocktail stick. Pop them in a large glass container - a couple of big kilner jars would do it - and sweeten them with a pound of sugar. Top up the kilner jars with 1 1/2 - 2 bottles of cheap gin. Decant after six months into bottles (I use old pasata jars, but you can get posh gin bottles from Lakeland) and drink. It's nicer the older it gets, but if you make it in October and want a little bit the following Christmas-time then have a fore-taste, it just won't be quite at it's optimum until the following Christmas.
Tips and Alternatives
  • I buy Oliver Cromwell gin from Aldi for my sloe gin. It's cheap and cheerful and I like its ironic name. Don't buy good stuff as it makes little difference to the overall taste.
  • That being said, some people buy cheap Vodka rather than gin as it tastes of little and doesn't interfere with the overall taste of the liqueur. I can see the sense in this, but I'm just too much of a traditionalist to try it.
  • If you can't bear foraging for sloes then try damson gin. You could make it now very cheaply and it tastes incredibly good.
  • My friend Zillah makes Bramble Vodka - just crush brambles and add them to a jar with some sugar and top up with vodka. Sounds yummy!
  • Finally, proceed with caution! Sloe gin is pokey old stuff!


monix said...

I too have a glut of apples this year - I'm sure there's a bit of folk lore to tell us that it's a sign of a bad winter or a good winter ahead, depending on who tells you! The apple cake looks good. I never use Bramleys - mushy, tasteless things.

I'll be on the lookout for sloes next month. The trouble with delaying is that other collectors get there first. I still have some sloe gin left from 2007 (I have a genius for finding new hiding places)so it should be wonderful for Christmas.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Monix
You're dead right about delaying. My favourite bush was pludered last year by some kind of sloe pirate. However, the other day I found a Blakthorn near my local play park. I hover round it protectively.

Tia said...

Glad some people have gluts. My apple tree, which has in past years deluged me with a steady rain of windfalls before producing bumper crop after bumper crop, has declared this year to be a jubilee and grown precisely six small hard green apples. Ho hum...


~~louise~~ said...

That's it! I'm crossing the pond on this one. Dorset Apple Cake; Sloe Gin. I do believe I may have been born in the wrong era too!!!

Oh how I wish I had an apple tree and sloes...

Gumbo Lily said...

I made apple sauce with a friend and still have a 5 gallon bucket of apples to reckon with. Today -- apple crisp with whipped cream.

I think there will be more October apples yet to come.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Tia
You can come and share a few of mine!

Hi Louise
Come on over and join in on th ebounty of the English hedgerow!

Hi Jody
I made a crumble (crisp) yesterday. The first one of the apple season, yum. Yes, there's always Ocotber to deal with as well!