When you crave nostalgia, culture and love – you need an apple tart!

Migrants work in the fruit, mushroom and flower sectors in NI
Migrants work in the fruit, mushroom and flower sectors in NI

Last month I was delighted to be a judge in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon’s Food Heartland Awards. Part of this involved choosing a dish that perfectly summed up the borough and naturally apples featured heavily in most of the entries.

Digby’s restaurant in Killylea in the county presented an apple tart as their showcase of what epitomises Armagh. An apple tart is the essence of simplicity. When made perfectly, nothing can compare. It evokes nostalgia, history, culture and love. The apple tart in Digby’s was the best I’ve ever tasted and I’ve eaten and enjoyed many over the years. The pastry was crisp, buttery and rich, encasing perfectly cooked and sweetened Bramley apples. The apples were still slightly tart and their texture just giving and not mushy. It needed nothing but a dollop of cream.

This year the apple tree in my garden is a burst of fruit. The variety is Discovery and the apples are deep crimson on the outside that belies a blush pink centre. They’re an eating apple and unfortunately deteriorate quite quickly after being picked.

Last year I peeled, quartered and cored them and then added to a lemon sugar syrup and cooked for 30 seconds. They were then bagged and frozen. Throughout the year I used them for cakes, tarts, mousse and a myriad of other uses. Because they’re sweet, they’re not really suitable for chutneys or preserves, unlike Bramley or crab apple.

Pork and apple is a classic combination. Slow cooked, crispy pork is perfect served with apple sauce. I bake my cooking apples first – just place them on a baking tray lined with parchment and cook until soft, then puree in a liquidiser and pass through a fine sieve. The slightly caramelized apple sauce is also lovely with roast duck or any roast game bird.

Apples cut through the richness of oily fish like mackerel, herring and eel. Grill the fish and serve with a salad of apples cut into matchsticks and dressed with cider vinegar, oil and mustard – simple but delicious. It works with eating and cooking apples – just adjust the vinegar accordingly.

If you’re roasting parsnips or celeriac, some apple wedges and a few toasted walnuts at the end will lift them to a new level. Adding some grated apples to coleslaw gives it a zingy edge.

For a simple starter pair good salami with an apple and fennel salad and some good bread – what could be easier? My first recipe is for a one pot dish using apples with chicken, bacon and potatoes. It only takes half an hour to cook but packs a flavour punch.

Serendipitously apples and blackberries are both in season now and go beautifully well together. My other recipe is for baked sweet apples, stuffed with blackberries and wrapped in a brioche dough and baked. Brioche is a rich, buttery, yeasty dough that adds a touch of decadence to the fruit. If you don’t want to make the brioche, use ready made puff pastry or just bake the apples and serve. Either way serve them hot with some cream or icecream for a show stopping dessert.