It is fantastic how the anticipation of eating, or even just the mention of a certain food will make your mouth and brain do a salivating tap dance. We all have our own particular favourites, whether it’s a freshly-baked pizza, a roast chicken or a kidney bean taco (I have strange tastes). I bet however, if I mention a juicy, red apple you’ll start to imagine holding that apple, inhaling its fragrant, nostalgic smell just before you crunch into it releasing a hit of perfectly-balanced sweetness and acidity that sends you to a happy place.
I would argue that it’s very rare to get such pure pleasure from processed food, or even an apple-flavoured snack or drink. The real thing, just as Mother Nature intended, wins every time which is probably why the humble apple has stood the test of time. Since King Alfred first hinted at their deliciousness in 885AD they have been a British favourite. Another important time in our apple history falls during the mid-19th Century when the master of eating apples, Cox’s Orange Pippin was introduced, around the same time as the world’s best cooking apple, the Bramley. Orchards began cropping up all over the country, with the majority of their yield being used for cider.
Commercial orchard numbers were high until we became members of the EEC in 1973 and apple importation restrictions were lifted. Before long our local heritage apple production began to diminish as the farming land was used for more profitable crops. In Scotland many of our historical apples became obsolete and we were very much in danger of losing our apple growers completely. Scottish Orchards 2009 founded by John Hancox and John Butterworth set about protecting existing orchards and re-introducing Scotland’s top 40 apple varieties across the country, as well as involving school children in planting fruit trees in schools and the surrounding land. More recently their Commonwealth Orchards project, getting whole communities growing apples in time for the Games, was a great success.
Here in Perthshire, the Carse of Gowrie Heritage Orchards Project is an initiative that aims to safeguard and enhance orchards within the historic fruit-growing area down by the Carse. Its had some real successes and if you’re out and about this weekend then head down to their first Carse of Gowrie Orchard Festival which looks like its set to be amazing fun! Shame I’m working for the Cairn O’Mohr Apple-Pie-Athon!
We had a great moment in our kitchen last week. One of my favourite early-season apples, the Discovery, arrived through the restaurant door. Throughout the year we look forward to new season arrivals when we will share a staff tasting moment. On this occasion, one apple from the delivery was selected and cut into portions revealing its lovely pink marbling. We munched together, not a word spoken, just smiles. Oh, the power of food!
I love a red apple all crisp and sweet. Raeburns are a favourite of mine. I don’t really get the whole Granny Smith appeal to be honest! For cooking it has to be a brambley or one of the amazing old varities that are being resurrected all the time.
But what to do with all this bounty? Often it’s not the lack of recipes but the sheer abundance of them! This is certainly with true with apples; have a Google and you’ll find that there are savoury – we serve partridge with apple sauce and its heavenly! – and sweet!
Although, if we’re honest, nothing hits the mark better on wet and windy night than an apple crumble. Far better than American Pie! My tip for improving the fruit layer is not to just use cooking apples. Try combining a mix of eating and cooking apples cut into different sizes. That will give you different textures and a more interesting combination of sweet and acidic flavours.
Last Sunday my wife was out at work and I got the kids together to make a sponge cake. We went with a syrup and ginger loaf cake and as it was in the oven baking we Ethan set about peeling a load of Brambleys that we reduced down with some water for a compote. The end result… me, the kids and this sticky loaf cake, served with warm apple compote and a big dollop of vanilla ice-cream. That my friends, is how you do a day off!