Our intrepid columnist Jan Fullwood explores Hert’s abundance of apples and pumpkins ahead of Hallowe’en…
Things are feeling very autumnal now that October has arrived. The nights are drawing in and there’s a chill in the air. But this is the month to celebrate the abundance of apples and pumpkins, as we work our way up to the witching hour of Halloween.
Apples are first on the agenda, as Apple Day is traditionally celebrated throughout this month. Hertfordshire has a history of apple growing and hosts its fair share of events to promote and enjoy the diversity of English apples. Whilst commercial growing has diminished, there’s still a wealth of community orchards hidden away across the county, in an effort to maintain the wildlife and keep old varieties of apples alive.
Check out the orchards at Shenley Park, Croxley Green, Sawbridgeworth Rivers Heritage site, Codicote and Highfield Park in St Albans, to name but a few. You’ll find a list of local orchards on the East of England Apples and Orchards Project website.
Tewin Apple Orchard
Tewin Apple orchard is my closest, but they made the difficult decision not to go ahead with their usual apple activities yet again this year. But it’s always open to the public so I sought it out and there it was, tucked away across the road from the Upper Green in the village. A small wild area of land managed by Herts Wildlife Trust, with ancient trees and a badger hide that can be booked to watch their nocturnal exploits. There’s an honesty box filled with fresh eggs, apple juice and local preserves, and money goes towards supporting the Trust. For more details, visit the website: Tewin Orchard and Hopkyns Wood – Herts and Middlesex Wildlife. Fingers crossed next year it will be back on the agenda once again.
In the meantime I’ve lots to pick in the garden, to store carefully wrapped in newspaper, or stew for pies and crumbles and freeze for future feasts. They include the wonderfully named Lord Lambourne, Fiesta, Red Falstaff and Cox Orange Pippin, as well as the trusty Bramley apple.
As the old adage goes, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, so take heed, and do seek out some of the more unusual varieties this autumn if you can. If you have an apple tree in your garden but don’t know the variety, try to identify it at fruitID | Apple Identification | Apple Varieties | Apple Cultivars
Half term will soon be with us and there’s no shortage of Halloween events to keep the kids entertained. There’s the annual pumpkin festival at Willows Activity Farm in Radlett, Spook Fest at Aldenham Country Park, and Frightown at Hatfield House, where you can ‘pimp your pumpkin’. Paradise Wildlife Park will be providing scares, along with the Dinos after Dark attraction. Those fiberglass dinos have certainly evolved since my boys were young.
There are also pumpkin picking events at Lee Valley Park Farms and Foxholes Farm.
Other local farms open for pumpkin picking are The Patch, Hertfordshire , a working farm with a maize maze in Hitchin, and The Pop-up Farm, a family farm that hosts pop up events, situated just off Junction 9 of the M1, close to St Albans.
With so much choice there is no doubt that apples will be bobbed, and pumpkins will be carved. Enjoy the activities but don’t waste their flesh, as they’re perfect for both sweet and savoury recipes,
In the meantime, try my pumpkin and apple soup, to keep you warm as the sun goes down and the spooks come out.
Pumpkin, apple, ginger and sage soup
This is a great way to use shavings from a hollowed out pumpkin. Apple adds a little acidity, with warmth from the ginger, and sage is a classic pairing with both apple and pumpkin.
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 20 – 25mins
Makes approx 1 litre
2 tbsp oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
300g pumpkin flesh, roughly chopped (butternut squash works well too)
1 large or 2 small eating apples, cored and diced (no need to peel)
2-3cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
600ml vegetable stock
1tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped, plus whole leaves for garnish
(or 1-2tsp dried sage)
Red chilli, de-seeded and sliced, or dried chilli flakes for garnish (optional)
1. Heat the oil in large saucepan on a medium heat, then add the onion and fry for 4-5minutes until starting to soften
2. Add the pumpkin or squash, the apples and ginger and fry for another 4-5 minutes until fragrant
3. Pour in the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes until everything is soft and cooked through.
4. Add the sage and blitz with a handheld blender, or in a liquidiser, until completely smooth. Add a splash of water to give the desired consistency if it’s too thick.
5. Heat through gently and serve garnished with the whole leaves and a sprinkle of chilli for heat if liked.