Monday, 17 October 2011

An apple a day ...

It’s apparently National Apple Day today – which seems like the perfect excuse to look at this wonderful fruit.

When you look at an apple, it’s hard to believe it holds such a prominent position at the heart of bad things within our culture.

Not only was an apple the fruit with which Eve tempted Adam in the Bible, but it was also the method of delivering poison to Snow White in the fairy tale of that name.

In terms of religion, it seems that the poor old apple has been at the core of the story of the Fall simply because of a misunderstanding of Latin.

But once that had happened – well, that was it. The prominent larynx in men is known as the ‘Adam’s apple’ from the rather picturesque idea that it had been caused by the fruit of forbidden knowledge getting stuck in Adam’s throat.

Different languages and interpretations mean that what Eve handed over might have been a grape, a tomato (originally considered poisonous), a pomegranate or even a fig – the latter being a long-standing symbol of female sexuality, which at least makes more sense than blaming a Granny Smith.

And after all, in apparent contradiction of all this, we also have the little saying about an 'apple a day keeps the doctor away', while being the apple of someone's eye is hardly an insult. On the other hand, bringing taking an apple to school for teacher might make you unpopular with your fellow pupils.

In A Taste of Britain by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown, there are nearly 50 varieties listed in the index, with some lovely, evocative names, such as Dabinett, Howgate Wonder and Sweet Coppin.

Mark, my organic veg supplier on the market, told me the other week that there were once thousands of different varieties of apple grown in the UK – possible evidence that it wasn’t really a source of great knowledge – but we’ve whittled it an awful lot in recent decades.

To be honest, until around seven years ago, I was only barely aware of a miniscule number of them.

The change, when it came, was simply the first autumn of the revived Broadway Market.

Now obviously I knew about Cox Pippin – and if pushed, I’d have been able to name a Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and possibly Braeburn. But even though time can play distorting tricks on memory, I cannot think of any other that I would have been familiar with.

But now I’m familiar too with varieties such as Spartan and Russet – while there haven’t been any Granny Smiths or any Golden Delicious in the house for years, let alone any Pink Lady.

When I was growing up, ours was not a particularly fruitily inclined household.

There would be a small glass of fruit juice at breakfast and banana sandwiches on the normal Saturday morning.

If it were an abnormal weekend when we were having a full-blown brunch, then it would begin with a half of grapefruit in a bowl, the segments already having been cut away from the pith and skin by a special, serrated knife, ready for the sugar-sprinkled fruit to be consumed with teaspoons.

As a slight aside, it possibly says something that, while my mother taught me almost nothing about cooking, when I went away to college, I was sent with one of the grapefruit knives as well as a serrated tomato knife.

But to return to our subject – it was never a place where there was a fruit bowl around, so I never gained a habit of just picking up and apple and biting in any more than I gained a habit of picking up a piece of confectionary and nibbling away when peckish.

Food was far more formal than that – always needing to be portioned out by my mother at the properly appointed times.

When we lived in Mossley, we had a couple each of gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes. My mother would make crumbles and something that I remember as a Charlotte – although it was nothing like any dish I’ve seen a recipe for since.

What I remember – albeit vaguely – was something more like a crispy crumble topping. Perhaps it was breadcrumbs and coarse brown sugar combined? I shall have to ask.

We’d also occasionally have a fruit salad, which would always involve sliced banana and grated apple, along with whatever else was around, including tinned peach slices and those little mandarin segments.

She’d make fruit flans sometimes too, with fruit set in jelly in a bought sponge flan case.

And then there was rhubarb, which could also be made into crumbles when it wasn’t being stewed gently and served hot with Bird’s Eye custard or cold with your breakfast cereal.

But now is certainly the season of the apple, and I cooked a piece of belly pork on a ‘trivet’ of onion and apple halves on Sunday, with decent quality cider to form a sort of jus with the fruit and the juices from the meat.

It worked rather well – but with the nights pulling in and the temperatures now having fallen to something much more seasonal, there is nothing like a proper English pudding to warm and comfort.

And so began a little experiment to see just how to make a decent crumble. Watch this space!

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