(From Living Within, October)
I’ve been chatting with American friends recently and their bumper apple harvest is filling their lives with apple hunts and applesauce, apple crisps, and apple cider doughnuts - the latter available at their orchards, sometimes alongside some apple core vodka, if they are very, very lucky (exceptionally smooth, so I am told).
Their talk of Gravensteins and Honeycrisps and Macouns and Cortlands has whetted my appetite for our own English varieties. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a source of the Claygate Pearmain, first identified by one John Braddick in a hedge in our very own village in 1821, but while grabbing a final bag of damsons from the dwindling supply at Garsons last week, I found a nice display of recently harvested local apples - Russets, Coxes, Red Windsors and something called Scrumptious.
Now of course you don’t actually have to cook apples to enjoy them - a good flavoured and textured apple is a joy to eat all by itself or with just a hunk of cheese but, that said, there is plenty of scope for the cook to get busy.
A simple applesauce is a pretty standard accompaniment to rich meat such as pork or game - bake the peeled and cored apples (sharp flavoured ones are best), cut into chunks, with a squeeze of lemon juice, a tablespoon or two of sugar (depending on the sweetness of the apples) and a couple of tablespoons of water, covered and stirred from time to time, and when the apples have become soft and will stir up into a smooth sauce they are ready for serving. For a more sophisticated savoury accompaniment, peel, core and slice apples (a variety that will hold its shape - not a Bramley, for example) and fry in a little foaming butter with a finely sliced onion, and season with generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper. As the apple slices start to take on a little colour, the onions to soften, and the whole looks just about ready to serve, stir in a tablespoon or two of cider vinegar; cook all together for a minute or two more and serve as for the applesauce.
Elizabeth David cooked her (eating) apples (peeled, cored and sliced) in a frying pan with some butter and a tablespoon or three (or four) of sugar - depending on quantity and sweetnesss of apples and individual taste buds - until they were gently coloured and nicely flavoured, carefully shaken or stirred so as to preserve their shape; you can serve this, as she did, as a very simple pudding, with or without cream, or use the apple slices in a shortcrust apple tart.
Apple crumbles are another very easy treat - slice up five or six peeled and cored eating apples and toss with a little lemon juice, about 5 tablespoons of sugar, two teaspoons of cinnamon and a small grating of nutmeg. Leave for about 20 minutes to let the juices start to run. Melt an ounce or so of butter in a frying pan, allow it to start foaming and to take on a little nut brown colour and aroma, then toss the apple slices and their juices into the butter - when all are coated and the juice is slightly syrupy, turn off the heat and transfer the apples to a baking dish large enough to hold them.
In the meantime mix together 100g plain flour, a small handful of rolled oats and 50g sugar; rub in 100g cold butter (cut first into small chunks) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs - you can cover and chill this until you need it. When ready to go, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, scatter the crumb mix over the top of the apples and bake for about 40 minutes, until it looks golden brown and the apple mixture is bubbling away at the bottom. Serve with cream or ice-cream.
Whether your source is Wisley, Garsons Farm, FruitWorld, or the supermarkets (at this time of the year, even they will have added to their normal imports with some locally grown specimens), I do hope you enjoy the start of this year’s apple season and that you make the most of as many varieties as you can lay your hands on.
“Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” ~ Song of Solomon 2:5