The self-seeded descendents of cultivated apples abound in hedgerows and often continue to cling to the branches well into December. Often mistakenly called ‘crab apples’, they should really be called ‘wildings’. These sports are generally too tart to eat, but they make a brilliant base for a savoury jelly . . .
The small hard apples that festoon hedges across Britain are actually ‘wildings’ being the descendents of discarded apple cores.
They are most common in western areas, but can be found anywhere. Apples are the result of chance insect-borne pollination, so these feral trees produce unpredictable fruit. A few are edible, but most are too hard and bitter for our taste. They are still worth harvesting, however. Mediaeval cooks bottled the strained juice as verjuice and used the astringent liquid as a substitute for lemon (a modern version is still used in Normandy cooking).
They are also high in the natural setting agent, pectin, and thus make a great base for jellies. The taste is generally a little bland on its own, but it is a great medium for other flavours. If rosemary is boiled up with the jam and a sprig popped in the jar for adornment, for example, the resulting condiment goes wonderfully with roast lamb or venison. Do the same with chillies and you have the perfect accompaniment to pork or even a strong cheese. Alternatively, wildings make good cider, particularly if blended with cultivated windfalls.