Crawley Beauty comes into her own …

Six years ago we planted out mini-orchard of seven fruit trees in our tiny community garden at London Rd Station. Four of the fruit trees were old Sussex varieties of apple: Crawley Beauty, Tinsley Quince, Mannington’s Pearmain and Saltcote Pippin. Our cordoned trees have done really well but Crawley Beauty, the only cooking apple and late fruiting, always seemed the runt of the litter. Slightly more in the shade, it has taken her all this time to fruit confidently. This year, however, she has produced the best apples.

We planted our apple trees in raised beds. They are cordoned to restrain growth but all the same, they’ve required quite a lot of summer pruning in the last few weeks. Crawley Beauty and Tinsley Quince in the first bed seem to be doing best this year. We’re not quite sure why: perhaps because they had a bit of shade in the heat of June and July, perhaps because that’s where we always started our watering, or perhaps because that bed got the benefit of more compost mulch? The next two – Mannington’s Pearmain and Saltcote Pippin – have produced smaller fruit this year and have more evidence of insect damage. It may also be that they had the biggest growth spurt back in the early years, and I haven’t been able to prune the extensive leaders on either of them.

I’ve already harvested some apples as the fruit have started to fall even though they are supposed to be harvested in late September and even early October. Despite insect damage around the core, they make a great apple cake. Just a case of cutting out the damaged bits … My recipe is adapted from Sarah Raven’s Kentish Apple Cake and uses 500g of chopped apple, more than any other ingredient. With whole meal flour and reduced sugar, sweetness provided by raisins and the apples, it’s as near to a ‘healthy’ cake as you can get … served up, of course, with crème fraîche!

This will be one for our 2018 harvest supper. We’ll probably also need to reprise our three leaf, three cheese lasagna as cavalo nero, kale and chard have all done well. Our courgettes and beans didn’t do so well this year, perhaps because of lack of water, and our onion crop was small too, though probably enough to make onion soup. Pears, on the other hand, are looking great – some are already being ripened in a garage – and hopefully, will be work well in a proposed Pear and Stilton soup.

SUSSEX APPLE CAKE

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 350g whole meal self-raising flour
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 120g sultanas or raisins soaked for 1-2 hours in water
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 75g toasted hazelnuts roughly chopped
  • 500g apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • grated zest of lemon
  • 3 large eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

Sift together flour, cinnamon and salt. Rub in butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in raisins, sugar and nuts. Add chopped apple together with lemon zest. Lightly beat the eggs and stir into the mixture. You need a large mixing bowl to do this – best done with clean hands and/or wooden spoon. When well mixed together, spoon the mixture into cake tin and bake for around 60 – 75 minutes or until firm to the touch. The mixture is very moist so try to check this middle of the cake with a skewer. You can cover the cake with foil to stop the top getting too brown. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack – beware the cake can be crumbly, that’s the risk of lots of apple. It’s delicious, though.

Adapted from Sarah Raven’s recipe for Kentish Apple Cake.

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