This is it, lads. We’re playing with the big stuff now. And by ‘big stuff’ I mean an entire bottle of brandy- and we’re all certified experts on all types of alcohol now, thanks to Monday’s post. Hello hardcore cooking.
There’s a story behind today’s recipe, and it’s inspired by my mum’s aunty. She’s an eighty-six year old widower and my absolute hero.
When I was about nine, I went to her house for a ‘cooking day’. We made her speciality, lemon cake, and I’ve never been able to make it like she does. She taught me how to make meringue and pastry and we made apple pie and Pavlova. We walked to the nearest coffee shop whilst our cakes were cooling and had a cup of tea.
She reminds me of my Grandad and we don’t see as much of her as we should.
Just before Christmas, we went to visit. It was a cold December afternoon, we walked to her house and turned up unannounced. She ushers us in from off her doorstep and it’s like stepping into a sauna; there’s an electric fan heater in the corner and the radiator’s red hot. We take a seat at the kitchen table, remove all variety of coats and scarves and hats, and she puts the kettle on for us.
There’s a chocolate cake in the oven and four dozen freshly made mince pies on the counter top. She opens a deep drawer and it’s filled to the brim with packets of biscuits- she tells us to help ourselves. I take a shortbread finger.
“Have another one,” she says. So I take a second biscuit to be polite. She takes the packet out of the drawer and hands it to me, and makes me take a third. By the time I leave, I’ve almost finished the packet.
“Do you have sugar?” She asks, and I tell her that I do. She stirs a very heaped teaspoon into one cup and brings our tea over.
She checks the cake in the oven. It needs a few more minutes. “My daughter asked me to buy her one from off the market,” she tells us, “but I thought making one would be easier.”
She tells us her plans for Christmas. She’s bought a small turkey and she’s cooking the full spread for her and her daughter. Then she’s off to the pub on Boxing Day. She tells us that she’s had to put her Christmas tree up twice because the first time it seemed off-centre and when she tried to fix it, it fell apart so she threw it into the garage. Then she had to go and get it back out and put it up again.
The cake comes out of the oven. It’s a perfect chocolate cake. Then she tells us that she’s made sloe gin and apple brandy.
“Apple brandy?” I ask, and she beckons me over to the corner of her kitchen. From beneath the counter, she lifts a large plastic bucket. As she removes the lid the smell of brandy hits me. I peer into the bucket while she lifts up another, slightly smaller, plastic bowl. “I’ll find a spoon,” she says.
She comes back with a ladle and three glasses.
We leave late in the afternoon full of shortbread biscuits, sloshed on home-brewed brandy and gin, and with a plate of homemade mince pies.
As we stumble home, I tell my mum, “I hope when I’m eighty-six I’m still making cakes and brewing brandy in a bucket.”
But why wait until eighty-six to brew some apple brandy? Grab your finest bucket, chop a few bramley apples, and start sampling the spirits.
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MAKES 1 litre
PREP 10 mins
Needs at least two weeks to infuse
▪ Once bottled, will keep for six months
4 large bramley apples
100ml boiling water
2tsp ground cinnamon
1 Peel and core the bramley apples and roughly chop into chunks. Add them to a large saucepan or bowl, then pour over the brandy.
2 Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water and add this to the apples and brandy. Sprinkle in the cinnamon, then stir all the ingredients together and make sure all the apples are well coated in brandy.
3 Cover and leave to stand for about two weeks, at room temperature. After two weeks, pour the mixture through a sieve into a large jug. Allow it to settle for an hour or so, so that any sediment can settle on the bottom of the jug, then carefully decant it into clean bottles, discarding the drop at the bottom with all the sediment. You don’t have to discard the apples, simply stew them with some water and sugar in a saucepan and make apple pie! For the perfect pie crust recipe, have a look here. ▪