Now that the season is over for our colourful summer and early autumnal fruit, we need to focus on our home-grown apples and pears – and there are endless things you can do with them above and beyond the staple crumbles and pies.
At this time of year there are lots of apple-based celebrations round the country, including Apple Day tomorrow at London's Borough Market, which champions British apple-growing and its forgotten varieties. Go and have a look at all the producers selling weird and wonderful apples that you rarely get to see in shops these days; such as Adams Pearmain, the first recorded variety in 1204.
There are other events too, such as an apple-peeling competition – not sure what the prize is for the longest peel but it sounds like fun to me. There will be lots of cider drinking going on, too, I would imagine; proper cider – rather than the stuff that the pubs are selling these days.
Apples are the perfect natural snack food and a great thing for children to grab on the way out of the door instead of chocolate or sweets or fizzy drinks. In fact, I've just brought back a carrier bag of Blenheim orange apples which I scrumped from Simon Kelner's garden after The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival.
Pears in perry
Matthew Fort made this dish on TV's Market Kitchen a few weeks back so, as promised Matthew, I'm nicking it here for this column. I'm not sure where he "borrowed" the idea from but it makes perfect sense to poach pears in their own alcohol, perry, and this makes a nice, simple, dinner-party dessert.
4 firm pears, peeled, with the stalks left on
A small piece of cinnamon stick
6 black peppercorns
2tbsp caster sugar
4tbsp clotted cream to serve
Put the pears, perry, spices and sugar in a saucepan and cover with a piece of greaseproof paper laid on top of the fruit inside the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the pears are soft and tender but not falling apart. Remove the greaseproof paper, and the pears from the liquid, then continue simmering the liquid until it has reduced by about two thirds and thickened. Return the pears to the liquid and leave to cool.
To serve, stand the pear up on a deep serving plate and spoon over a few spoonfuls of the thickened liquid and serve with clotted cream.
Conference pear, Barkham blue and walnut salad
There are still good leaves around in the winter months such as watercress, rocket and small spinach leaves. This is a good light salad or starter. Barkham blue is one of my favourite British blue cheeses, made at Two Hoots Cheese (0118-976 0401; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) near Wokingham by Sandy Rose who has also just won the Best British Cheese in the British Cheese Awards. You can also buy it at Paxton and Whitfield (paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk).
Couple of handfuls of small salad leaves such as buck leaf sorrel, landcress or watercress
2 ripe conference pears, peeled, cored and cut into thin 2-inch strips
30-40 good quality walnut halves
2tsp sea salt
1tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
120-150g Barkham blue cheese
For the dressing
1tbsp cider vinegar
2tbsp rapeseed oil
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
1tsp grain mustard
Put the walnuts on a tray; scatter with sea salt, then drizzle over a tablespoon of olive or rapeseed oil. Lightly colour under a pre-heated grill for a few minutes, turning every so often. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing; toss the leaves and pears in the dressing and arrange on plates. Break the cheese into small pieces and scatter on the salad.
Somerset apple cake
Makes 1x 24cm cake
All the apple-growing regions of the UK have their own versions of this cake. This is ideal to serve as a dessert with ice cream, clotted cream or just thick cream.
170g unsalted butter, softened
170g soft brown sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten
240g self raising flour, sifted
1tsp mixed spice
600-700g cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into smallish chunks
Prepare a loose- bottomed 24cm x 6-8cm deep cake tin by greasing it lightly if it's non- stick, or lining the base with buttered greaseproof paper if not. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs with the honey. Gently fold in the flour and mixed spice then stir in the cider and apples. Transfer to the cake tin and bake for 1¼ hours, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in tin; serve warm on its own or with thick cream.
Roast teal with quince sauce
Teal is one of my favourite game birds; it has the flavour of a wild duck and the delicacy of a snipe or woodcock. Although teal are small, they make a perfect light main course. I've served them here with a heritage variety of beetroot, boiled until tender and then roasted with the teal. If you can't find quince, use a bramley apple sauce.
4 oven-ready teal
2 quince, peeled and cored
3tbsp caster sugar
A small piece of cinnamon stick
A couple of good knobs of butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the quince into even-sized chunks and place in a saucepan with the caster sugar, cloves and cinnamon. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer gently with a lid on for about 45 minutes to an hour or until tender. Drain, remove the cloves and cinnamon and coarsely mash by hand or in a food processor. Pre-heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the teal inside and out, rub with the softened butter; place in a a roasting tin. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, keeping them nice and pink and basting every so often. Serve with the quince on the plate or on the side.