It may still be August and therefore in theory the height of summer, but the Cotswold hills are swathed in rolling mist and glumly persistent rain is bruising the late roses, rotting the courgettes and encouraging battalions of snails to munch on plants that survived the June drought.
On a more positive note, the apples are growing plumper and rosier by the day. Planted 35 years ago, the Discovery apple tree was chosen because its sweet, crisp fruits ripen in August, perfect timing for school holidays in a country cottage. Even its neighbour, a Worcester Pearmain chosen for a sharper taste and later ripening (half term), has heeded the threat of felling on the grounds of consistent poor performance and is laden with fruit.
So with harvest time approaching (and with the Glorious 12th the best for a decade) it is time to buy foil flan cases, find new rubber rings for the preserving jars and to dust off the wonderful mechanical apple coring and peeling gadget (which men in the house love to operate) that produces concentric rings of fruit perfect for french apple flans and for adding to Faisan Normande.
Thinking about french apple flans and feathered game, there may be a couple still in the freezer. In fact, a quick check reveals that there are (all together now):
Four pigeon breasts, three french flans, two apple tarts and a pheasant brace in a foil bag.
Not to mention Swedish apple cakes and plastic boxes of baked apples stuffed with prunes - vintage September 2009. The larder contains three bottles of pureed apple and seven jars of apple chutney. The chutney can continue to mature away merrily and so can the bottles of puree (father-in-law famously kept kilner jars of gooseberries for many years) but common sense dictates that buying fresh peaches and raspberries must be resisted for the next couple of weeks - the freezer must be cleared!
In the meantime, ahead of the cookfest that dominates September, the first few apples can be enjoyed on a less industrial scale. Here are some ways of using apples from the garden.
Healthy breakfast fry-up
Wash and core a couple of apples, then slice into thickish rings, dust with seasoned flour and pop into the pan or griddle after frying some slices of streaky or back bacon (Denhay is the current favourite) and/or some slices of Bury black pudding. Cook until the apple slices are golden and crisp on the outside and soft and melty on the inside. Just as delicious as fried bread but more virtuous.
This suggestion comes from Jane Grigson's wonderful Good Things cookery book and is based on a recipe from the German Rhineland. Scrub 4 or 5 large carrots, slice thickly on the diagonal and cook until almost cooked but still slightly firm. Meanwhile gently saute a few onion slices in butter with a splash of olive oil (to prevent burning) and then add a couple of apples peeled, cored and cut into fat wedges. Raise the heat and cook until lightly browned, then add the drained carrots and shake about in the pan.Season with salt and plenty of black pepper, scatter over some chopped parsley and serve. Particularly good with roast pork or game.
A fast tart
This recipe is the basis for a number of dishes, including the Provencale Panade and, with butter, sugar and egg added to the apple mix, the wonderfully named American Transparent Pie. I love it because it is fast, delicious and popular with all ages - and you can dispose vast quantities of apples very quickly when you feel the glut is about to overwhelm you.
Prepare your favourite shortcrust pastry (or use readymade), line a tart tin then pop it into the fridge or the freezer. Grate the zest of a lemon and an orange into a large bowl, and squeeze the juice of both into the same bowl. Then grate in peeled and cored apples, tossing well in the juice and zest as you go to minimise browning. The number of apples needed is flexible, but the minimum for an 8inch tin will be five. Turn the grated mass into the tart tin, piling it up like a plump feather pillow. Sprinkle with sugar to taste mixed with ground cinnamon. Dot with little bits of butter and put in a hot oven (number 6) for around 40 minutes until golden brown. Just as good cold as warm, with creme fraiche or cream.
More on that brace of pheasant later.....