Last week I picked the last of a bumper crop of apples from the Discovery tree in the garden.
Tomorrow is Apple Day and a good time to reflect on the importance of this beautiful fruit and its heritage.
There have been apples growing in Ireland for at least 3000 years. St Patrick himself is said to have planted a number of apple trees including one at a settlement near Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland.
The Armagh Bramley apple is a world famous iconic variety of the fruit and has been conferred PGI (place of geographic interest) status since 2012. What I love especially about apples that are grown naturally in a garden or orchard is their “realness”. They’re misshapen, knobbly and weather beaten.
When an apple has been caressed by soft rain, whipped by wind and warmed by the sun, you’ll taste and feel that in every bite. Consider then that we seem to favour fruit that’s been gas flushed, stored in a chiller for 18 months and then shipped over here from the other side of the world. Compare a locally grown, gnarly apple to one of the entrapped in plastic ones, polished and shining in generic rows in the supermarket. When you take a thin slice of an Armagh Bramley apple and taste the sharp, sparkly crunch, you can feel each drop of rain and gust of wind that it has experienced. When its been lightly stewed and enveloped in crisp pastry it’s a gastronomic experience that encapsulates the place of this modest fruit in our unique culinary history.
Apple Day was started in 1990 on the 21st October and has developed into a day with almost 600 events spread across the UK. The apple is used as a symbol of the physical, cultural and genetic diversity that we shouldn’t allow to slip away. Their hope is that linking particular apples with their place of origin helps orchards to be recognised for their contribution to local distinctiveness. Nowhere can already be doing this as much as the apple growers of Armagh.
My first recipe this week uses eating apples. They’re cooked in a caramel then baked in a tart enrobed in hazelnut frangipane. Hazelnuts and apples are serendipitously in season together and work beautifully – the rich oily nutty paste is a foil for the sharp crunchy apples.
My other recipe uses the iconic Armagh Bramley in a sweet sharp dressing with honey to dress pork chops. They’re served with a potato and cabbage galette which has been cooked in the excess bacon fat. Go to a butcher that cures his own bacon for the chops to get the best. Kennedy Bacon from Omagh produce bacon chops that are naturally cured and produce a delicious crispy fat.
Nothing sums up Autumn in Northern Ireland better than bacon, spuds, cabbage and apples.
Martin Luther once said: “Even if I knew tomorrow that the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” It’s a sentiment that continues to bear fruit.