We're bang in the middle of what is popularly regarded as apple time, although they are around for a lot longer than many people realise.
With a staggering 2,300 native varieties at least available for eating, cooking, cider making and preserving, it’s just as well they don’t all mature at once.
Earlies ripen around August-September, mid-season from September to October, late season from October through to December and extra late between December and May.
In reality there are few times when fresh apples aren’t available, and as they store well in the right conditions home grown varieties are pretty much accessible all year round.
Despite this, early autumn will always be apple time in most people’s minds.
It’s sad with so many native apples around that here in the UK the market is dominated by just a handful of commercially grown varieties (Granny Smith, Braeburn, Gala, Golden Delicious and Cox’s Orange Pippin with Bramley’s reserved pretty much exclusively for cooking).
Even worse, many of the apples you get in the supermarkets are imported from abroad. This to a nation historically famed for its orchards!
We use apples wherever possible here at Food Social from traditional fruit crumbles to ice creams and sorbets, raw in salads, in our homemade chutneys and relishes and teamed with meat (and not just pork).
We get a lot of ours from a forager and grower called Sue Moody down at Burnopfield in County Durham.
At this time of year she supplies us with a whole array of fresh, seasonal fruit including blackberries and plums, as well as apples.
She has some apple trees of her own but also forages for them in the surrounding woods and hedgerows. The names of many have long been forgotten.
I think they taste much better than the commercial ones – crunchier, more intensely flavoured and juicier with none of the blandness and cotton wool texture consumers are now forced to put up with.
Among the delights Sue has been bringing into the Food Social kitchen this year is foraged crab apples.
I’m ashamed to admit that this is the first time I’ve cooked with them.
The tree produces an abundance of colourful fruit that in the right weather conditions (and if they’ve avoided being eaten by birds) can hang on until after Christmas.
Don’t try eating one raw though. If you thought Bramley’s were sour then crab apples are even more unpleasant.
These are a cook only fruit, but thankfully they can be put to numerous uses in the kitchen.
Crab apples are traditionally used to make jelly (great eaten on scones or as an accompaniment to game, oily fish like mackerel or cheese), but they’re also ideal for turning into cider, pickling, roasting and because of their high pectin content for use in thickening jams and other preserves.
We’ve been making jelly here at the restaurant and diners will see it being put to good use in the coming months now that game is in season.
We’re lucky to have a supplier like Sue, someone who is as passionate as we are about fresh, seasonal, home grown produce. But it’s well worth seeking out non-commercial apple.
Farm shops, farmers’ markets, small independent greengrocers and delicatessens are the places to head if you like your apples to have a bit more character and history than the uniform varieties favoured by the supermarkets.With such an exciting array of colourful, sharp, sweet and crunchy apples available on our doorstep, there’s no excuse for not supporting British.
Andrew Wilkinson is head chef at Food Social @ The Biscuit Factory, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411, www.foodsocial.co.ukOpen 12pm-2pm and 5.30pm-10pm Monday-Saturday and 12pm-3pm Sunday.
Apple and Almond Tart (Serves 12)
For the sweet pastry:
250g plain flour
100g icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
For the filling:
250g unsalted butter
250g ground almonds
250g eggs (about 4 or 5 eggs depending on size)
250g caster sugar
Dash of rum
8 Bramley apples, peeled and sliced
½ lemon, juice only
For the glaze:
2tbsp apricot jam
4tbsp apple juice
Good handful flaked almonds, toasted
Sifted icing sugar
First make the pastry by sifting the icing sugar and flour together in a bowl. Add the softened butter and mix together until the pastry resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Break in the eggs and bring the pastry together until smooth. Form into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll out the pastry until it is the thickness of a £2 coin and use it to line a loose-bottomed flan tin, remembering to leave a slight overhang to allow for shrinkage.
Line the pastry case with parchment paper and weigh down with ceramic or baking beans. Bake blind at 170C/325F/gas mark 3 for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans.
To make the frangipane, cream the butter and sugar for one minute, add a third of the almonds followed by a third of the eggs and repeat until all the almonds and eggs have been incorporated.
Add the splash of rum.
Meanwhile melt a little butter in a frying pan and with the lemon juice slowly cook the apples until you can crush them.
Pour a thin layer of the frangipane onto the pastry, layer on the apples and cover with the rest of the filling. Bake at 170C/325F/gas mark 3 for 40 minutes.
Cook the apricot jam and apple juice in a pan until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Brush over the top of the tart and if desired add a good sprinkling of almonds toasted in the oven for around eight minutes (you can do this when the tart is baking) and a little sifted icing sugar.