A few years ago, wandering around the small town of Gassin near St Tropez, my then 75-year-old foodie friend Daniele spotted some tiny citrus fruits overhanging from a high rock wall that surrounded someone's big fancy house. "Marmalade," she yelped excitedly and proceeded to scale the steep wall. I started thinking about where the nearest hospital might be, feeling slightly worried that my not-so-youthful friend was risking breaking her neck for some motley-looking fruit. I yelled up the wall to inquire whether we might have been better to purchase said fruit at the market. "Non, non, non, these are very rare." I was scrabbling to keep up with the barrage of fruit being hailed down. "Bergamot," she yelled. By then she had disappeared entirely from view.
Raiding fruit in the middle of the afternoon in a smart neighbourhood in French Riviera … well this was a clandestine adventure I hadn't been expecting. "Won't they mind?" I called up. "Other side of the fence. Our side," came the reply. With the tree virtually emptied, Daniele carefully climbed back down, took off her cardigan and tied up the arms before filling it with all the fruit I had piled up on the pavement. She picked up her stash like a rucksack and threw it over her shoulder, a wide happy smile on her face. "Merveilleux, quelle chance!" (Marvellous, what luck), she said. "Now we make marmalade."
The act of taking fruit from trees we don't actually own is known as scrumping and has a long, rich history in places like the UK. An early meaning of scrumping, referred to taking windfalls or the small apples left on the trees after harvest. This evolved into illicitly taking any sort of apples. The word only came into being in the 1800s and is thought to be derived from the verb "scrimp", meaning to economise or be thrifty.
Scrumpy is the name given to a cheap and rough variety of strongly alcoholic cider (which is a hazard to the unwary), brewed from small or unselected apples. It was once described by a farmer in Herefordshire as squeal-pig cider, this being the noise you made when you tried it. "It used to take three people to swallow a mug of it, one to drink and the other two to hold him upright."
Down here in the south of New Zealand where I live, wild walnuts, pears, apples and blackberries dot the roadsides, waiting for someone to pick them. Around Auckland there are feijoas aplenty at this time of year and the citrus crops aren't too far away. If you see your neighbour's fruit trees laden with fruit that falls unused to the ground, you might like to pop over to ask if you can pick some. Give them some of what you make and they'll be sure to be happy.
Here's to scrumping. Waste is the new shame.
These tasty little open apple tarts with their buttery crumble topping make a gorgeous dessert with icecream or creme fraiche. The pastry is really easy to make but you can use store-bought pastry.
Ready in 1½ hours + chilling
2½ cups flour
½ tsp salt
230g chilled butter, cubed and frozen for 5 minutes
½ cup ice-cold water
1 egg, beaten with a little water, to glaze
100g butter, melted
1 cup flour
½ packed cup soft brown sugar
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp baking powder
4 large tart apples, such as granny smith or braeburn, cored and thinly sliced
Zest of ½ a lemon, finely grated
¼ cup soft brown sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
To make the pastry, place flour and salt in a food processor, add butter and pulse 5-6 times until butter is mostly pea-sized. Add water and pulse until dough just comes together but is not smooth. Press into a log shape and chill.
To make the topping, mix all ingredients until combined.
To make the filling, toss the apples with the other ingredients.
Preheat oven to 170°C fan bake and line 2 oven trays with baking paper.
Cut pastry log into 8 slices, roll each slice out between 2 pieces of baking paper to a circle 16-18cm in diameter and transfer to prepared trays. Divide the apples between the pastry discs, mounding in the centre and leaving a 3-4cm border of pastry.
Top each with crumble topping, then fold up the pastry edges in small pleats to partially enclose the apples. Brush the pastry edges with egg. Chill for 15 minutes then bake until golden and crispy (35-40 minutes). Serve warm with icecream garnished with zest.
Blackberry Creme Brulee
If you don't have a blowtorch, leave out the brulee process - I find it just doesn't work under the grill. The custards still taste amazing without a hard caramel topping. Any tangy fruit can be used but blackberries and boysenberries are my favourites.
Ready in just over an hour
5 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups blackberries, fresh or frozen
¼ cup caster sugar to brulee
Preheat oven to 150 C. Whisk egg yolks and sugar until dissolved. Mix in cream and vanilla. Divide berries between 6 ramekins then pour cream mixture over the top (about ½ cup per serving). Place ramekins in a roasting pan and fill pan with very hot water to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in oven until just set, 50-60 minutes. The custards should still wobble a little in the centre. Cool and chill for at least 4 hours or up to 48 hours.
To brulee, sprinkle 2 tsp caster sugar over the top of each custard and gently spread out with the back of a spoon to completely cover the surface. Finely spray with a little water to just dampen the sugar then use a blowtorch to caramelise.
Hold the flame just above the sugar and keep moving it around until sugar has melted to a rich, dark caramel. Leave to set until caramel is solid.
Serve within a couple of hours, don't refrigerate once bruleed or caramel will start to melt.
These delicious morsels are possibly the simplest thing you'll ever bake – no mixer needed, just a bowl and a spoon. I like to grind my own hazelnuts with the skins on, as they have loads more flavour – just blitz them to a fine, sandy texture in a food processor. You can use ground almonds if preferred.
Ready in 40 mins
1½ cups icing sugar, plus extra to dust
1 cup ground hazelnuts or ground almonds
½ cup flour or rice flour
5 egg whites
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
180g butter, melted and cooled
3 feijoas, peeled and thickly sliced, plus extra to serve
1 cup creme fraiche, to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to 160C fan bake and grease 8 muffin or friand pans.
Sift icing sugar into a mixing bowl, add ground hazelnuts or almonds and flour or rice flour and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre, add egg whites, lemon zest and butter and stir briefly to just combine.
Divide mixture between prepared tins and top each with feijoa slices. Bake until golden brown and set (25-30 minutes). Allow to stand in tins for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool. Dust with extra icing sugar and serve with creme fraiche and extra fresh feijoa slices, if desired.
Yvonne's picks . . .
I love that the bottle of Scoundrels & Rogues Evil Genius Imperial Cider 330ml ($7.50) says "not to be consumed by narks, scabs or good samaritans", because that gives me and all my dodgy friends permission to slurp! With smoke-laced, windfall apple funkiness from 18 months' sleepy time in seasoned oak barrels alongside some serious heft from its 12.8 per cent alcohol, this richly structured, savagely good cider is illegally lovely with these buttery, crumbly apple tarts. scoundrelsandrogues.com
Straight from the fridge, a chilled glass of Hawke's Bay's Three Wise Birds Homegrown Hero 330ml ($50 x 12) is a crisp, dry, fang of feijoa and braeburn apples in a cider that'll convince you that you're among friands. Despite the rather simplistic packaging, it's a ripe, round, rumpty yet dry-styled sip that highlights a humble hero of Kiwi backyards.
It might sound odd, but slowly sipping your way through the Sawmill Chocolate Stout 500ml ($10) while spooning this gorgeously creamy, berry-driven brulee into your maw, will have your eyes a-rollin' and your heart a-hummin'. The clean, creamy-fresh cocoa layers wash across the brulee's ripe blackberry and caramelised characters in sexy fashion.