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Food & Drink

Food & Drink, Food Waste Tips

How To Use Up Apples and Pears

Do you have a glut of apples of pears? Or a bowl of fruit going to waste? Here are some clever ideas to use up apples and pears – from the peel to the flesh and even the cores.

I’m really big on reducing food waste, so I was really excited to learn about the new book, The Complete Book of Vegan Compleating: An A-Z of Zero-Waste Eating for the Mindful Vegan*, by Ellen Tout. Here Ellen has lovingly and concisely put together the ultimate guide to zero-waste and sustainable cookery. As such, Ellen’s book shows you how to make use of every leftover, scrap, and glut to make vegan food in delicious, nutritious, and inspiring ways.

Ellen has kindly let me share an excerpt from this book, on how to use up every last bit of apples and pears to help reduce your food waste. Did you know that, as well as their sweet flesh, apple and pear peels, and even their cores, can be used to create sauces, dressings, and confectionery in your kitchen? Read on to learn more!

How To Make Apples and Pears Last

Apples and pears are in season from September until February. They should be stored in the fridge. However, pears are often best purchased when firm or underripe so that they can ripen at room temperature before being stored in the fridge. You could also chop and freeze apples and pears to later add to crumbles.

If you grow or forage a large number of apples, then these can be stored somewhere cool on an apple rack for a few months. You can make your own by wrapping each fruit in newspaper and storing them in a cardboard box with a sheet of paper between each layer, making sure the fruits don’t touch. Check regularly to remove any bad apples and you’ll be enjoying your harvest well into the winter.

Nutritional Benefits

Apples are rich in antioxidants and are a great source of fibre, especially in the skin. They are also a source of vitamins A, C, K, and B7. Pears are also a good source of fibre, as well as potassium, phosphorus, vitamin K, and calcium.

Apples and pears were named as part of the “dirty dozen” in recent research. This means that unfortunately, they are high on the list of produce with multiple pesticide residues, so it’s especially worth buying organic or growing your own, and washing the fruit well.

How To Use Up All Parts Of The Fruit

Images of apples being prepared for cooking and eating, with a blue text box that says how to use up apples and pears to beat food waste

Flesh

We tend to eat apples and pears raw and as a quick snack, but try adding chopped raw apple or apple peels to a coleslaw or beet slaw. Slightly old fruits are ideal for stewing or adding to skin-on fruit crumbles, pies, or tarts. If you want to preserve the flesh then try some of the following ideas.

Dried apples or pears

Cut the fruit into slices, as thinly as possible, leaving the skin on. Most people core the fruit before doing this, but you can leave the centre intact, only removing seeds or any especially tough parts. Spread evenly on a baking tray and cook at 100°C/200°F/gas mark ½ for 2–3 hours, until fully dried. Eat as a snack or topping for smoothie bowls, granola, and desserts. Follow this same process with different fruits, like apricots and kiwi, and ideally bake one big batch of dried fruits at once. Store in a jar for up to a month.

Apple sauce

As well as being a condiment, apple sauce is a brilliant replacement for eggs in vegan baking. To make, chop two medium apples into small chunks. There’s no real need to remove the peels, but if you are going to use this as an egg replacement you might prefer to – or just use a hand blender to purée the peels into the finished sauce. Add the apples to a saucepan over a medium heat with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, or more to taste. Once it simmers, reduce the heat and cook for around 20 minutes. Mix in one teaspoon lemon juice and remove from the heat. Use a potato masher or hand blender to purée the sauce, depending on your preference and intended use. Store in a jar in the fridge for a week or freeze.

Chutneys and ferments

Chutneys are a great way to make use of a large amount of apples and pears. I like to forage these, as well as plums, and give the chutneys away as gifts.

Ways to Use Apple Peel

Many dishes, like crumbles or sweet pies, taste great with the apple or pear peels intact. However, others, such as chutneys, do benefit from peeling. The peels are a good source of fibre and well worth saving.

These recipes work best fresh, but I also have a tub in our freezer, where we store leftover apple and pear peels and cores. Once you collect enough, these are perfect for making homemade vinegar or syrup. You could also add your chopped peels to homemade granola before it goes in the oven.

Apple or pear peel tea

Steep your peels in boiling water, or simmer on the stove, and add ground cinnamon and brown sugar to taste. You could also use a little sweetener in place of sugar, or add some lemon juice. Enjoy warm or cooled in the fridge with ice.

Sweet apple or pear peel crisps

These are best made when the peels are fresh, so the flavour is absorbed. They are also great as a snack or in granola. To make, in a bowl, mix 80g/2¾oz peels with one teaspoon sugar and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon. Make sure the peels are well coated. Spread evenly on a baking tray and cook at 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 for 20–30 minutes, checking regularly. The finished peels should be crispy but not burned.

Infuse spirits

Apple and pear peels can be used to infuse spirits. You can experiment with combinations like apple and rhubarb gin or pear vodka.

What About Apple Cores?

flatlay of apples in a bowl and on a chopping board

Apple seeds are poisonous in large quantities. However, you can carefully munch your apple or pear right up to the very centre, avoiding seeds, and leaving just the overly fibrous parts behind. Store whole cores in the freezer with peels until you collect enough to make a vinegar or syrup.

Apple cider or perry vinegar

Cider vinegar, made from apples, or perry vinegar, made from pears, is easy to make using leftover peels and cores. You just need a little patience!

Place around ten apple or pear cores in a clean (but not soapy) jar, as well as any peels, and add one tablespoon of sugar. Add enough water to cover the fruit and stir well. It’s important that every time you stir you use a clean utensil to avoid any contamination.

Next, place a piece of muslin cloth/cheesecloth over the top of the jar and secure it using a rubber band. Place on a shelf out of direct sunlight and stir every day. After a few weeks, it will taste a little like cider/perry. Frothy white bubbles should form on the surface; this is a good sign. But any mould means the batch should be discarded.

After around a month, strain out and compost the apple or pear pieces. Cover the jar and leave for another month, after which time it should taste more vinegar-like and is ready to bottle and use. Store this in the fridge for up to a year. It may need to be “burped” every now and then to release any air so keep an eye out for bubbles. If you want to speed up this process, add a “mother” from a shop-bought raw, unfiltered, and unpasteurized cider/perry vinegar, or from a batch made previously.

How To Use Up Whole Apples

If you are looking for a way to use up whole apples, then try these baked cinnamon apples. This traditional pudding lets you savour the apple’s natural sweetness and flavour. It takes hardly any time to make and uses kitchen staples. Delicious served warm with plant-based vanilla ice cream.

Prep 5 minutes. Cooking 30 mins

You Will Need

  • One large apple
  • Three teaspoons of sultanas/golden raisins
  • Two tablespoons of dark brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon finely diced unpeeled root ginger
  • ½ teaspoon maple, agave, or golden syrup to bind
  • A small knob of plant butter
  • Plant-based vanilla ice cream, to serve

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F/ gas mark 4.
  • Remove the core from your apple using an apple corer. If possible, do this cautiously so that the base of the apple remains intact. Alternatively, carefully use a knife to remove the core. If there is any apple flesh attached to the removed core, retain and dice this into the filling. Save the core for making apple cider vinegar or compost it.
  • In a bowl, mix the sugar, sultanas, cinnamon, root ginger and sweetener until combined. You can also add any offcut apple flesh or diced apple or pear peel from making other dishes. Stuff this filling into the centre of the apple, using your fingers to compress it down and ensure it is tightly packed.
  • Place the apple in an ovenproof dish with a very shallow layer of water.
  • If you have any other apple or pear peels or flesh to use up, you can chop and add these to the dish around the apple.
  • Top the apple with the butter.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 25–30 minutes until softened.
  • Serve warm with ice cream. Drizzle over any syrup or fruit that has collected in the dish.

Excerpt from The Complete Book of Vegan Compleating: An A-Z of Zero-Waste Eating for the Mindful Vegan*, by Ellen Tout, published by Watkins Media. Available to purchase now at all good bookshops and online.

Food & Drink, Summer

How To Make Lemon Balm Tea – Two Ways

Want to know how to make deliciously refreshing lemon balm tea? You’re in luck – it’s one of my favourite beverages! Here’s how to make it with fresh leaves, and how to make lemon balm tea from dried leaves. Enjoy!

Lemon balm grows in abundance in my garden. I absolutely adore the smell of lemon balm and it’s not just me. Bees blooming well love lemon balm. When the plant’s tiny white flowers bloom in August and September, you’ll find scores upon scores of bees on it collecting precious pollen. As such, I have planted a couple of pots of it over the years. Pro-tip: plant it in pots otherwise it will spread. I tell myself I’m doing it for the bees, but mostly it’s simply for the fact that I adore lemon balm tea. It’s a refreshing, caffeine-free tea, and one that I reach for in the day or evening when I need a non-caffeinated pick me up.

A basket full of freshly picked lemon balm, ready for making tea with

In summer you can make fresh lemon balm tea, or you can dry the leaves for a beverage you can enjoy all year round. I’ll show you how to make fresh tea in summer. And while we’re here, I’ll also show you how to dry lemon balm leaves to preserve them for later. And then, because I’m good like that, I’ll show you how to make lemon balm tea from the dried leaves. I promise it’s a taste of summer even in the darkest depths of winter.

First Off, What Lemon Balm?

Lemon balm is an edible herbal plant known by the botanical name Melissa officinalis. The plant is also frequently called common balm and balm mint. This is because it’s closely related to the mint family. Lemon balm is often confused with lemon verbena, but these are two very separate plants from two very different parts of the world. Lemon balm is native to Europe and North Africa, whilst Lemon verbena is native to South America. You can, however, make tea from lemon verbena – it is perfectly edible – so if you have lemon verbena to hand then all is not lost!

Lemon balm has a long history of culinary use. And in many regions, lemon balm has long been used as a natural herbal remedy. Some possible health benefits of lemon balm tea include reducing stress and anxiety levels, help with insomnia, the provision of indigestion and nausea relief, and more.

Whether herbal remedies are your thing or not, lemon balm also makes a pretty tasty and refreshing cup of tea. So let’s get down to the tea-drinking business!

How to Make Fresh Lemon Balm Tea

A cup and tea infuser, with fresh lemon balm leaves

The quickest, no-fuss way is to make your tea fresh. Here’s how to make one cup of tea:

  1. After picking your fresh lemon balm leaves, give them a shake to dislodge any bugs. Then rinse the leaves under cold water, and using a tea towel, gently pat dry the leaves.
  2. Add two to three teaspoons of fresh lemon balm leaves to a tea infuser, and then place in your teacup or mug. I prefer to tear up the leaves before adding them to the tea infuser, as it helps release the lovely lemon balm flavour.
  3. In your kettle, bring the amount of water you need to a boil.
  4. Pour the hot water into the teacup and allow the lemon balm leaves to steep for around 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Drink as it is, or add a slice of lemon for additional flavour. If you need to sweeten your tea, add sugar, honey or your usual sweetener.

Do note that it’s best to use lemon balm for tea before the plant starts to flower. This is because the flavours are at their optimum peak. The plants tend to flower in August, but depending on the weather, the flowers may arrive in July.

How to Make Lemon Balm Tea from Dried Leaves

A jar containing dried lemon balm leaves next to a tea strainer

If you have dried leaves to hand then follow this tea-making guide instead. If you’re looking to dry your fresh leaves then do skip to the next section.

This makes one cup:

  1. Add one heaped teaspoon of crumbled, dried lemon balm leaves to a tea infuser.
  2. In your kettle, bring the amount of water you need to a boil.
  3. Pour the hot water into the teacup and allow the dried leaves to steep for around 5 minutes.
  4. Drink as it is, or add a slice of lemon for additional flavour. If you need to sweeten your tea, add sugar, honey or your usual sweetener.

How to Dry Lemon Balm Leaves

lemon balm on an oven dish ready to be dried in the oven

If you have a glut of lemon balm, like me, then you are going to want to dry at least some of it to tide you through the autumn and winter. There are two separate methods – in the oven, and hanging them up to dry. Let me talk you through both.

How to Dry Leaves In The Oven

Here’s the full step-by-step guide to drying lemon balm leaves in the oven:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 80°C / 176°F
  2. For the best flavour, harvest the lemon balm leaves just before the plant begins to blossom. Depending on where you are, this could be from July to August. As it’s a favourite plant of the bees, do ensure that you leave plenty for our fuzzy friends to gather pollen from.
  3. Next, cut the lemon balm stalk, just above the second row of leaves. Pruning like this encourages the lemon balm plant to produce new shoots, and maintains a source of pollen for the bees.
  4. Once you’ve gathered what you need, give the stalks a shake to dislodge any bugs. Then rinse the leaves under cold water, and gently pat dry with a clean, dry tea towel.
  5. Once dried, lay out the stems on a baking tray and heat in the oven for around 1 to 1.5 hours. Keep a close eye on your leaves to ensure they don’t burn.
  6. You can tell the leaves are fully dried when the leaves become very crisp and brittle. If you are in any doubt, give the leaves a little more time in the oven, as leaves that are not fully dried out will develop mould.
  7. When the lemon balms are sufficiently dry remove them from the oven and remove the leaves from the stalks. For best results, I find running my fingers down the stem helps remove all the leaves.
  8. Finally, place the lemon balm leaves in a clean and dry airtight jar, ready for future tea drinking times. Compost the leftover stalks.

Air Drying

If you don’t want to dry the leaves in the oven, you can dry bundles together. Simply gather several stems of lemon balm together, and tie them up around the stem with a piece of string. Then hang your bunches of lemon balm up in a cool dry spot in your house. Once dried, in approximately 2-3 weeks, follow steps 7 and 8 to store your lemon balm tea.

Storage

Your dried lemon balm will keep for around 6 months or so. For optimum freshness, store your jar in a cool dark place. If you do see any signs of mould on the dried leaves then you’ll know the leaves did not dry properly, and they should be discarded.

Enjoy!

PS: If you have mint growing in your garden, then you can also make mint tea. Here’s how to dry mint leaves for tea.