It will come as no surprise to you that as a chef, I follow the changing of seasons with more interest than most. It’s fair to say that my year doesn’t really work around the traditional system of 12 months, but rather follows the emergence of my family of ingredients that call round to greet me at the same time each year.
I always look forward to seeing them; some are in my life for as little as two weeks, some stick around for months at a time. Whatever the duration of the visit, I like to give them my full attention and that is particularly true at this time of year when apples become my new best pal!
Like so many of Scotland’s food gems, apples can often be picked up for free so it makes perfect sense to find ways of gathering as many as you can. Grow your own, pester your neighbours, send a Christmas card to random orchard owners – here in the restaurant we are blessed with regular deliveries from friends, customers and suppliers who drop off bagfuls at a time, challenging Lee and I to stick to our mantra of low waste, and encouraging us to come up with both sweet and savoury recipes to get the best from them.
Although supermarkets stick to the tried and tested favourites such as Golden Delicious, Pink Lady and Granny Smiths, here in Tayside and into Fife, there are a huge number of apple varieties growing, each one bringing a unique taste and texture to the mix.
Many of these varieties date back hundreds of years – in fact, one of the oldest and most extensive heritage orchards in Scotland is Megginch Castle in the Carse of Gowrie. This whole area played an important role in the resurgence of ancient varieties and a couple of years ago the Historic Orchards Forum joined up with Carse of Gowrie growers to encourage the maintenance of the old traditional orchards as well as creating new orchards and fruit tree plantings.
My favourite apple is a variety called Discovery; it grows very well in Scotland, and as an early season grower it’s the first to give me a wee cuddle each year! It has an amazing red vein running right through it, and a sweet burst flavour. I’m also quite partial to the rich flavour of Egremont Russet.
My advice is to source some of these wonderfully unusual varieties, and take the time to eat it slowly, appreciating how wonderful a simple life can be! Whip up a batch of chutney and spread it over the best of our Scottish cheddars or simmer down with sugar for a homemade, comforting crumble or pie – food of the Gods!
The humble apple is packed with antioxidants, lowering cholesterol, preventing cancers and diabetes. Try apple cider vinegar in your fresh juices or smoothies for a bit of a kick or add to soups such as celeriac and apple or the classic mulligatawny. Of course, old favourites include cutting in half and adding to tray of roast pork nearing the end of its roasting.