As we celebrate this year’s bounty from the apple orchard, Genevieve Taylor prepares three fresh and tasty delights
Autumn in an apple orchard brings simple pleasures. Leaves fade with the tints of the season, branches grow heavy with ripe fruit and the air fills with an earthy scent – a combination of trees yielding their bounty and the gentle decay of plants preparing for winter.
The arrival of the apple crop as summer gives way to autumn stirs a nostalgia for the traditions of harvest: cider-making, preserving, baking apple pies and crumbles, and getting ready for winter by hoarding and storing. Traditions that were established and evolved by generations of Britain’s farmers, gardeners and cooks.
PIPPINS AND PINEAPPLES
Thanks to the dedication of Victorian gardeners, Britain once cultivated more varieties of apple than anywhere else in the world: more than 2,000 types of apples with all sorts of tastes, textures, shapes and sizes. For eating, there were Pitmaston Pineapples, Ribston Pippins or the Laxton’s Superb, a red-flushed, sweet, crisp dessert apple. For cooking and juicing, the Alfriston was a large, sharp apple that made wonderful juices and smooth purées, or the Howgate Wonder, a super-sized cooker that was great for pies and tarts. Every variety was bred to enhance different properties for a range of uses.
Today we import over 70% of the apples we consume and a quick glance around the supermarket shelves reveals much about our limited choice, with the Bramley being the only cooker on offer, along with a handful of similar- tasting eating apples. Things are starting to change, though. There has been a surge in interest among consumers in both British produce and its seasonality. Also, community orchards are springing up across the country where groups of people plant and nurture fruit trees on otherwise unused land.
The University of Bristol Heritage Orchard at Goldney Hall is not a new orchard, but it is a verdant oasis in the heart of the city that is now using its crop to help the neighbourhood. Originally planted by the merchant Thomas Goldney III in 1744, it still grows five historical varieties (see ‘Traditional Apple Varieties’, p56). Simone Jacobs, horticultural advisor at the university, coordinates the Apple Project to reduce waste and find charities and community hubs for the Heritage Orchard’s annual harvest.
As well as its obvious historical and ecological importance, the orchard is also forging strong links between the students and the community. Last year, students distributed apples grown in the orchard to several good causes, including the Wild Goose Café, which provides meals for the homeless in east Bristol, and the Matthew Tree Project, a charity that provides food to those in need.
To celebrate British apple season, and the varieties we once enjoyed in the harvest, I’ve put together three recipes using apples grown in the Heritage Orchard: a preserve for storing over winter, a salad for the season’s last warm days and a hearty pudding for when summer has drifted away again for another year.
As summer gives way to autumn, Genevieve Taylor harvests apples at the University of Bristol Heritage Orchard at Goldney Hall