An apple in the kitchen
Once we take an apple into the kitchen—for a pie, perhaps—its flavor becomes only slightly less important than that of an apple eaten straight from the tree. You might lose the very top notes, the subtlest hint of raspberry, say, or nutmeg, but the backbone of sharpness or intense sweetness will remain. It may even sing louder than in the raw fruit.
It is worth considering which might be the best apple for the job. A slice of pork crackling needs a sharp bite to offset its rich fattiness; a dish of poached apples will possess an extraordinary elegance when made with a batch of early Discovery; a baked apple needs plenty of acidity to balance the brown sugar and vine fruits with which it is traditionally stuffed. But what is most important to the cook is whether an apple is the sort to keep its shape or not. Will the fruit stay in one piece or will it expand in a balloon of snowy bubbles?
Talk of “cooking” apples and “eating” apples is confusing and full of anomalies. Many varieties cross over between dessert and cooking. A crisp Howgate Wonder, for instance, is as happy with cheese as it is under the crust of pie. You can cook with any apple, but whether it is a wise choice is another matter. I tend to think of Malus domestica as dividing into two kinds—those that will look good in soldierly slices under the glaze of a fruit tart, and those that will melt into a sweet, fragrant slush.
We have grown well over 2,000 varieties of apple in this country. I would dearly like to list the characteristics of each deserving one but that would constitute a hefty book in its own right (I occasionally have to remind myself that whatever else it may be, Ripe is principally a cookbook). For a full discussion of apple varieties, you cannot do better than Joan Morgan and Alison Richard’s Book of Apples (Ebury Press, 1993). It barely leaves my side in autumn, and it is here that I check the history and tasting notes of, say, Hoary Morning or Mrs. Wilmott. It is a directory, but this is also where you will find out that D’Arcy Spice is traditionally picked on Guy Fawkes Day and that the Norfolk Beefing was dried in bread ovens and used by bakers. An extraordinarily detailed and important work.
The Internet, too, has rich pickings. Where else would you learn that you have been looking in the wrong place for the Manaccan Primrose (it is found almost exclusively around the Lizard in Cornwall) or that, despite its delicious name, Buttery d’Or (or Buttery Door or Buttery Dough) is best as a cider apple?
I have instead split the most popular apple varieties (and those we are most likely to come across during the Apple Day celebrations around October 23 each year) into what I feel are the most useful categories for the cook—apples that hold their shape, those that froth, and those that have a unique aYnity for eating as they are, or with cheese.
The frothing apples
A baked apple, its skin split, the top half rising like a beret, is best achieved with an acidic variety. The list includes Golden Noble*, Kentish Fillbasket, Emneth Early, Monarch, Charlotte, Newton Wonder, Lord Derby, and the Carlisle and Keswick Codlins. Most of these I have met at some point in my cooking life; others, such as Edward VII and the Eynsham Dumpling, I have never even seen on sale, let alone poured custard over. Then, of course, there are the seedlings: Bramley, Dumelow’s, and Pott’s.
If you are in Cornwall with nothing much to do on an October afternoon, you might like to go in search of the Colloggett Pippin. You will be in with a good chance if you pronounce it Clogget and are within sight of the Tamar. The Cornish have a habit of shortening place names the way children shorten those of their best friends.
An apple that will bake nicely without collapsing is the Grenadier, but it carries a hefty dose of sweetness too. My own reverence is kept for Peasgood’s Nonsuch, a generous, beaming apple with the geniality of a pumpkin. Handsome, striped, and slightly russetted, it combines cloudlike froth and deep flavor. The tart, complex Roxbury Russet,* a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, takes well to the oven too, as do the sweet-yet-tangy Honeycrisp, the spicy, juicy Esopus Spitzenburg,* and the tart Northern Spy.*
Keeping their shape—apples for an open tart or a good, stiff purée
The variety of apple we use is, of course, a matter of taste, but occasionally the choice can be crucial. Attempt to make a tart in the French manner, with fine pastry and overlapping slices of fruit, using a frothing apple such as Bramley and you will fail. A fruit that keeps its shape when cooked is essential if the characteristic neatness of classic French pâtisserie is to be preserved. French pastry chefs don’t really do wobbly. That means a Charles Ross, James Grieve, Gravenstein,* or, if you find one, a Cravert. A Granny Smith* will behave well too, and its lack of sweetness will balance the fruit jelly you will inevitably use as a glaze.
The drier the flesh of an apple, the more likely it is to retain a semblance of its shape. Annie Elizabeth, still popular in the Midlands, is just about perfect for this, but I wish you good luck in tracking her down. Golden Pippin will work, though my own pick is Blenheim Orange,* with its lightly flattened top and flushed skin the timid orange of an October sunset.
Firm, creamy-yellow-fleshed fruits are also worth a thought as stewing apples, becoming tender and almost canary yellow when simmered with a little sugar, while not exploding into a mass of foam.
An apple for cheese
Away from the stove, there are apples to be chosen to eat with cheese, which can be a lifelong and pleasure-filled hunt. The marriage of fruit and cheese is a very personal one, and only you can say whether Adam’s Pearmain is the one for a wedge of Cheddar, or the Beeley Pippin works better with a six-month-matured Caerphilly than it does with a newly made goat cheese. As with pairing food and wine, there is no right and wrong.
A lump of cheese and an apple is a regular lunch in our house; more often than not with a bowl of soup—a mildly spiced parsnip soup, a jagged lump of Cheddar, and a Cox’s* being a favorite January lunch.
I tend to prefer the aromatic apples with cheese—those whose notes may include a subtle breath of hazelnuts, aniseed, pear drops, or a faintly herbal inflection. Aromatic apples are not the easiest of fruits to find, being mostly older, less sweet varieties. With the exception of Ashmead’s Kernel,* which I have occasionally spotted in supermarkets, these are farm-stand varieties, or ones to jostle for, elbow to elbow, at the farmers’ markets. Cornish Gilliflower,* Alfred Jolibois, Ribston and Beeley Pippins, Carlswell’s and Ellison’s Orange, D’Arcy Spice,* Orleans Reinette,* Easter Orange (though I have yet to taste it), Jupiter, and Suntan are what I call cheese apples.
*Available from US sources.
Apples and ...
Fennel Both the bulb and the seeds will introduce a welcome breath of aniseed to an apple salad.
Cinnamon The knee-jerk spice for apples it may be, but with good reason. Any dessert application will benefit from a generous pinch of the ground spice, particularly where brown sugar is involved.
Nutmeg Just the most diminutive grating will lend a homey warmth to a sweet recipe.
Dark sugars The butterscotch notes of light muscovado and the treacly tones of dark muscovado marry well with the sharper varieties of apple.
Berries The sharper fruits such as black currants, elderberries, and loganberries are better partners for the apple than sweet strawberries or raspberries.
Blackberries Apple and blackberry is probably the ultimate pairing of fruits. A partnership that feels like part of our national identity.
Honey Use to brush an apple tart after baking or instead of sugar when sweetening stewed apples.
Maple syrup Pour over baked apples or blend into a purée. Use to glaze wafer-thin apple tarts straight from the oven.
Brandy I am not one for including much alcohol in recipes, but brandy with the fruit of the apple tree is an exception. A very successful match.
Cheese I have gone into detail about this masterful match elsewhere, but a highlight of any Saturday shopping trip in autumn is when we buy a bag of apples from the farmers’ market, then try them out with different cheeses. This is the way I discovered the delights of munching Discovery and goat cheese and Egremont Russet with a piece of Double or (very rare) Single Gloucester. It’s a good family-around-the table game.
Nuts The nut family is never happier than when in the presence of apples, especially in cakes. Hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts are more successful than Brazils or pistachios.
Butter The preferred cooking medium with this ingredient, though if oil is a necessity, then use peanut, hazelnut, or walnut rather than olive or sunflower.
Dried fruits Slices of yellow Russet and a lump of British cheese on a piece of raisin-freckled fruit bread is a great midmorning pick-me-up and much better for us than tiramisu.
Pork Any sharp apple will cut the fatty notes of pork, but the silkiest sauces tend to come from the large fruit such as Grenadier, Peasgood’s, and the like.
Sage A diYcult herb to marry with fruit, but apples and sage get on well. A couple of leaves tucked into the filling of a pie with a cheese crust is worth a try.
The fatty qualities of roast pork are best balanced with a dab of sauce made from the Bramley-style fruits, but other meats will benefit too: duck, goose, and pork sausages take on a lighter feel in the mouth with a smear of apple purée.
Apple and game is well worth trying, especially pheasant and mallard. Apples flatter the dark character of venison too, particularly if you stir a spoonful of red currant or rowan (small, tart fruit) jelly into the gravy.
Mackerel, grilled till its skin crisps, is just as happy with applesauce as it is with gooseberry.
Most varieties can be used as a flavoring in a sausage hotpot, but only as a gem to find hidden in the rich gravy, not as a main ingredient, where their effect would be too sweet.
Try a couple of “cookers” in a pork casserole, cut into thick slices and added half way through cooking.
The wedlock of apples and ham works in many ways. An apple jelly makes a fine accompaniment for cold honey-baked ham; thinly sliced Russets are refreshing in a ham sandwich made with granary-style bread; a piercing purée of Bramley-type fruit will enliven a plate of warm poached ham; ham steaks become infinitely more interesting with the addition of a spot of applesauce.
Some varieties store more comfortably than others. Nothing quite beats the traditional slatted wooden storage racks, but then, few of us have the room nowadays. Wrapping them in newspaper seems to succeed, as does nicking a few polystyrene apple trays from your produce market (it works well enough for their crummy old imports). The crucial point is to prevent the fruits touching one another. Apart from the risk of bruising, if the skins are nestling too close to one another, a single bad apple will spread like wildfire through the whole box.
Any type will keep better under refrigeration. I have kept even the most temperamental apples in a plastic bag in the bottom of the fridge for weeks. To avoid loss of flavor, bring the fruit to room temperature before eating.
When deciding which apple to use for which job, check its sugar content. The sweeter the apple, the more likely it is to keep its shape. The sharper the apple, the more likely it is to collapse.
Stuffed pork belly with apples
Belly pork, with or without its wide, flat bones, is a regular in my kitchen. It is one of the cheaper cuts and roasts more successfully than the bargain cuts from other animals tend to. As I was buying a piece the other day, my butcher, Mr. Godfrey, suggested I stuff it with apples and sausage meat. I did, and the result was sumptuous.
enough for 6
pork belly – 3 1/4 pounds (1.5kg), boned and scored plump, herby fresh sausages – 5
a large, sharp apple small sage leaves – 6
a little oil or pork dripping a large glass of hard cider
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Lay the pork belly flat on a work surface. Remove the sausages from their skins and put the sausage meat into a bowl. I am tempted to suggest a little more salt and black pepper, but you alone will know the seasoning of your butcher’s best. Peel, core, and coarsely chop the apple, then stir it into the sausage meat with the whole sage leaves (the leaves are cooked whole so they add a subtle note and you can remove them as you carve).
Put the sausage meat down the center of the pork, then roll the meat up to form a thick cylinder. Tie with kitchen string down its length to secure the stuYng. Unless you are very professional at tying meat up, it will bulge out here and there, but no matter. Lightly oil the base of a roasting pan, lay the rolled pork in the pan, and season the skin thoroughly with salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven for twenty minutes, then lower the heat to 400°F (200°C) and continue cooking for forty to fifty minutes, until the juices run clear.
Remove the meat from the pan and keep warm. Pour off much of the fat from the roasting pan (there will be quite a lot) and put it over medium heat. Pour in the cider and bring to a boil, scraping at the pan-stickings and stirring them to dissolve them into the cider. Check the seasoning. Carve the pork and serve with the hot pan juices.
Cheese and apple puffs
There are some who might call these pithiviers aux pommes et au fromage. Well, they are cheese and apple puffs to me. Store-bought pastry is fine here, though a homemade version could be even better. One per person is enough for a light lunch. But I think they need a salad to offset their richness; something with the bitterness of endive or watercress would be perfect. You could use pretty much any cheese here, but the blues from Strathdon or Lanark would be more than worth a try. I used Bramleys for this because that is what I had around, but I see no reason why a sweeter apple couldn’t be good, too.
enough for 4
puff pastry – 1 pound (500g)
apples – 14 ounces (400g)
the juice of half a lemon blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola – 6 ounces (175g)
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Roll the pastry out thinly. Using a bowl or small plate as a template, cut out eight disks and put four of them on a baking sheet. Put the others aside.
Peel and core the apples, then slice them thinly, dropping them into the lemon juice as you go. Cut the cheese into small cubes and toss it with the apple slices. Season with salt and pepper, then divide the mixture between the four pastry disks. Lightly beat the egg and brush the edges of the pastry.
Roll the remaining circles of pastry out just a little more, then lay them over the apples and press tightly to seal the edges together. Brush with beaten egg and bake for fifteen to twenty minutes or until the pastry is deep gold. Leave them to settle for a few minutes before eating.
A deep cake of apples with cinnamon and nutmeg
We could fall out debating whether this is a cake or a pie. Whatever we decide to call it, the result is extraordinarily deep. The recipe needs a little care: the pastry is extremely fragile and you will feel as if you are peeling apples for England. But the finished cake is truly splendid. Just the thing to make on a wet autumn day.
enough for 8 at least
for the pastry butter – 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons (200g)
golden baker’s sugar – 1 cup (200g)
a large egg all-purpose flour – 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (400g)
baking powder – a heaping teaspoon a little milk and sugar, to finish
for the filling sweet dessert apples – 4 pounds (1.8kg)
a lemon golden baker’s sugar – 2 tablespoons a knifepoint of ground cinnamon a little grated nutmeg
cold heavy cream, to serve
To make the pastry, cut the butter into chunks and put it in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the sugar and beat until pale and creamy. Break the egg into a cup, mix it gently, then add to the butter and sugar, mixing thoroughly. Mix together the flour and baking powder, then add carefully and slowly to the butter mixture. Stop as soon as the flour is incorporated. Remove the dough, put it on a lightly floured board, and roll into a fat sausage. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill for half an hour.
Meanwhile, peel the apples. As you finish each one, drop it into a bowl of cold water in which you have squeezed the juice of half the lemon. Quarter the apples, then core and thickly slice them, dropping them back into the acidulated water as you go. Drain the apples and put them into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan with the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and the juice of the remaining lemon half. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and continue until the apples are tender but still hold their shape—about ten to fifteen minutes over medium heat with the occasional stir. Leave them to cool.
Very lightly butter an 8-inch (20cm) springform cake pan. Remove the pastry from the fridge, cut off a little less than a third of it and return that to the fridge. Cut thick slices from the large piece of pastry and use them to line the base and sides of the cake pan, pressing it firmly into the corners and patching any tears or cracks. The pastry should be quite thick. Chill for twenty minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Line the cake pan with a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper and half-fill with pie weights. This will keep the pastry in place. Put a baking sheet in the oven and, when it is hot, put the lined cake pan on it (the heat will help the pastry cook underneath). Bake for fifteen minutes, remove, and leave to cool slightly, then remove the paper and pie weights. Take care not to tear the pastry. Return the pan to the oven for five minutes without the weights and paper. Remove and leave to cool down a little. Turn the oven down to 350°F (180°C).
Fill the pastry shell right up to the rim with the apples, holding back as much of the liquid as possible. Roll out the remaining pastry to fit the cake and place it over the top. Patch any holes and gently press the raw pastry onto the edges of the cooked. Cut three slits in the top of the pastry to let out the steam (though they will close on cooking). Brush the top with a little milk.
Bake on the hot baking sheet for forty-five minutes, until the top is nut brown. Remove from the oven, dust with a little superfine sugar and leave to settle down for a good fifteen minutes. Run a thin spatula around the edge to free the pastry from the pan, but leave the cake in place for now. When the cake is thoroughly cool, carefully remove it from the pan. You will need a sharp knife and a jug of cream.