I have to admit that Apple Day has always passed me by, but this year I was writing a small piece for Borough Market about heritage apples and the celebrations that they’re holding in the market on Sunday 26th October. There will be 1000 varieties of apple on display, many available to taste, to celebrate the market’s 1000th birthday (there are in fact over 2,300 named apple cultivars).
Suddenly I’ve become more apple-aware and got all hot under the collar (& with good reason too) looking at how many foreign imports are being sold in the supermarkets at the height of our own apple harvest. I went out on an English apple hunt and found a good variety of home-grown fruit in my local green grocers – Reg the Veg. There was an even bigger selection of lesser known apple types at Earthbound, the organic store in Cotham. It was fascinating to taste so many totally different flavours and textures, Imi and her friends joined our panel – here are our tasting results.
At the top of the pile we LOVED Egremont Russett (nutty), Red Windsor (very crisp and juicy), Braeburn (good sweet /sharp balance) and Charles Ross (wonderfully sweet).
In the second tier came Adam’s Pearmain (aromatic but a bit soft and granular) , Hereford Russett (not quite as sweet and nutty as its Egremont cousin) , Spartan (perhaps a little too sweet), Cox ( good taste – could have been crisper) Kidd’s Orange Red ( a wee bit too sharp for the girls but I enjoyed it) and Gala (bit sweet and bland).
Our only rejects were the tiny Pitmaston Pineapples that just seemed rather wooly and uninteresting.
So, fired up with newly found enthusiasm for heritage apples Peter, Imi and I visited the Horfield Community Organic Orchard (HOCO) in Bristol for their Apple Day celebrations last weekend. You’d never imagine that there was an orchard and allotment plot tucked away behind the houses on King’s Drive but having found the tiny path we suddenly walked through a gateway into a little haven in the city. The volunteers at the orchard share their knowledge about fruit growing, look after the ancient heritage varieties they discovered on the site and keep up a wonderful green space; in short they’re a breath of fresh air in the city.
On Sunday there was a stall of fabulous home-baked cakes (all appley of course), a table of dozens of varieties to taste, apple pressing (giving the most fabulously toffeeish juice), a stand of jams, chutneys and very young trees and then some good old Morris Dancing. The sun shone, it was ridiculously warm for October and the busy Gloucester Road seemed a million miles away.
Maybe every city has a few gems like this tucked away, but I’m always amazed how many little secrets there seem to be around Bristol waiting to be discovered.
One recipe I discovered whilst doing my research for Borough was for apple dumplings. My neighbour, Sacha, says that as a child she used to beg her mother for any leftover pastry when she was baking and wrap up an apple into a dumpling. I have to confess that I’d never even heard of them. Apple dumplings have now entered my repertoire, they’re a great way of playing around with whatever dried fruit or nuts you might have in the cupboard and just feel a bit more special than a simple baked apple. So, here’s the recipe.
Apple Dumplings (4)
4 delicious dessert or dual-purpose apples – I used Herefordshire Russets (cookers are just too soft and moist)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp of chopped dried fruit – I used figs but apricots, dates or sultanas would be delicious too.
2 tbsp brandy, calvados or rum
1 tbsp roughly chopped nuts – hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios
3 tbsp ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp muscovado or other brown sugar
250 g puff pastry (I cheated with all – butter bought stuff)
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water
Pre-heat the oven to 220 °c
Peel the apples and remove the cores, leaving about 2cm flesh at the bottom. I find it easiest to remove a plug with a knife and then excavate with a melon baller (about the only time I ever use it) to give a decent size cavity for the filling. Roll the apples around in the lemon juice in a bowl to stop them browning.
Now place the dried fruit in a small pan with the alcohol and bring it up to the boil. Switch off and leave the fruit to plump up whilst you prepare the rest of the stuffing.
Mix together everything else and then tip in the fruit and alcohol.
Carefully spoon as much of the filling as possible into the apples, be generous, you can really pile it on top.
Now take a piece of foil to check what size your pastry squares need to be to enclose the apples. Roll out the pastry very thinly and cut into your 4 squares.
Place the apple in the centre of each square and pull up the corners as if you were forming a new stem. Pinch together the sides, chop off the excess pastry and use this to make a few leaves.
Brush the pastry with the beaten egg and stick on the leaves. Bake in the oven on a tray for about 20- 25 minutes, until golden brown.
Eat whilst hot with cream, clotted cream or honeyed yoghurt.
And just another thing – my rather beautiful plates that I’ve served the apples on are, in fact, made of tin. Lindy sells them at her glorious Portobello shop Ceramica Blue or if you’re in Bristol you can find them in the Bristol Guild . I can’t wait to whip them out on my next camping trip – they range from William Morris designs to replicas of Queen Victoria’s Coronation plates.