Tuesday, 16 October 2012
My own apple day
It will be Apple Day this Saturday, October the 21st. There will be a nationwide celebration of orchards, with all manners of apple-y events from large fairs to little festivals at the farmer's market. Last year, I was tying apples to strings and coaxing kids to apple-bob, or crushing buckets of apples with whatever superhuman strength that a puny Asian girl has for the cider-pressing show. This year though, I've heard there's a bit less apple worshipping going on. The very wet spring has caused a very sad harvest, so in many places, Apple Day's been cancelled. But whether or not the apple festivities are going on in your area, we can all still celebrate. I've been fondling (apples) and digging up old photos, resulting in a tamarind applesauce recipe, and a long-overdue peek into Chegworth Valley.
Most Londoners probably know of Chegworth's famous juices, and their wonderful variety of lovely organic apples. They stock some of London's best restaurants, like St John's and Bea's of Bloomsbury, and have a dedicated following at the farmer's markets that they do. It's while working at the farmer's market that I became good friends with the owner Linda, and after a few months of prodding and wheedling for me to come visit her, I finally made my way down to Kent one hot sunny day in May with a friend in tow. I remember it was right after an intense bout of deadlines from school, so it felt almost as if I was being rescued from a horrible land as Linda whisked me away to the farm in her van.
It was spring then, so the apple trees were bare, but we trudged through the orchards anyway, Linda half-cursing at the stinging nettles that were not-very-gently tickling our legs, and half-gushing happily at the apple blossoms, expertly giving forecasts on the varieties of apples that were going to do well later this year. I've never come across apple trees before, and was a little surprised that they weren't very tall at all. I've always had a mental image of a rather big tree, big enough for a boy to sit under and get the idea of gravity knocked into his head by a falling fruit, but Linda explained that the trees are kept at a height that makes it not crazy impossible to pick.
We also walked up the slopes to where the salad leaves and soft fruits were being grown. Those were being grown in polytunnels, practically saunas what with the over-enthusiastic sun, but everybody at the farm cheerily went about their tasks with their shorts and sunscreen on. That was when the first of the strawberries were starting to appear, so I pretty much had the first pick of these luscious red jewels. Fresh off the branches, they were the sweetest, juiciest things ever, but I may be slightly biased with my parched throat and stupidly thick jeans and boots.
As an excuse to step away from the sweltering heat, we went to take a look at the last of the apples, kept in cold storage since their harvest last season. Chegworth apples aren't at all the smooth, uniform beauties that you find in a bag of apples from the supermarket; some are smaller than others and some have odd bulges, which I find just adorable. When they first started the farm, they found they had to comply to the supermarkets' ridiculous standards of shape and size, and that these people cared nothing at all about the actual taste of these apples, or what farming methods they used as long as they got their unnaturally perfect apples. They very stubbornly refused to give up on their farming ethos, determined to produce fruit with the best flavour, and to deal with people who were equally passionate about the quality of their produce i.e. people like the dear old lady who comes to the market, rain or shine, and tuts when her favourite early-season Discovery apples run out.
It was a beautiful day that ended with a pitcher of chilled Chegworth apple juice and newfound respect for these mad people and their mad passion and pride in what they do. As a tribute to Linda and Apple Day, I've got a special applesauce recipe to share.
600g English apples*
1 tbsp tamarind pulp, soaked in warm water
1 stick of cinnamon
unrefined cane sugar, to taste
*I know most people go for the tart Bramley cooking apples, but I always like to use eating apples so you don't need to add much sugar at all. Here I used a mix of the very sweet, nutty Russet apple, and the king of traditional English apples, the Cox, for a bit more tart fragrance to complement the tamarind.
1. Peel, core and dice the apples.
2. Tip into a pot, together with the tamarind water and spices and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer on low heat for about 20 min or until the apples break down into a soft mush. Remove the spices and add sugar to taste.
3. You can puree it or strain it but I do it real rustic and just roughly mash up more with a fork for more texture. It's ready to serve hot or let cool, before storing into jars, great for gifts if you decide not to eat it all up yourself.
It's such a simple recipe that I feel quite embarassed to share, but it's so delicious and versatile I find it quite selfish not to enlighten people who actually fork out money to buy overpriced jars of applesauce. My good friend likes to use applesauce to replace oil and eggs in her fat-free baking, but for the fat-fearless, this is especially wonderful with homemade ice cream or a crispy roast pork belly ;) I don't like fusion for the sake of it, but here, the tamarind adds a delicious tart-sweetness that really complements the apples and the aromatic spices.
Here's to the imperfect English apples and their mad growers!