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Classic Apples #2 – Cox’s Orange Pippin

26 Mar

Everyone should know this desert apple. It’s popular and tasty and if you rattle it you can hear the seeds inside. I’ve chosen it because I have a small tree in my garden and this is how it looked at the weekend.

Apparently, Mr and Mrs Cox were responsible for this thing of beauty. Mr Cox was a Bermondsey brewer and a keen gardener who moved from London to the country to retire. The story goes that in 1825, Mrs Cox, his wife, was watching a particularly interesting bee working over some blossom on one of the apple trees and was so impressed that she marked the tree with a piece of ribbon. Her other half, took the apple pips from the apple his wife had marked and sowed them. Most of them died but two survived, one became the first Cox’s Orange Pippin and the other Cox’s Pomona. The tree didn’t become public until the 1840s and in 1857 this new upstart of an apple won first prize in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Grand Fruit Exhibition, much to the dismay of the traditionalists of the time!

A good story and if it isn’t true then I don’t want to hear about it. The Coxs themselves never heard about the full success of their apple, as they died beforehand. Trees being trees don’t like to be rushed. I’m taking this information as 100% evidence that the bee on the blossom part was true. The original tree survived until a few years before the outbreak of World War I, when it succumbed to high winds.

It is very, very nice and is very ‘complex’. A word I don’t like which means it has a range of different flavours that you may pick out as you eat it. Each apple is an edible journey. I can’t remember ever having one of these from the supermarket because there always seems to be someone giving you spares from the trees in their gardens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare too well outside England so I’ll just have one on your behalf if you’re not from round these ‘ere paarts!!!!




Emergency Mussels and Saturday Breakfasts

24 Mar

We eat less than half of the mussels we ‘produce’ in this country, which tells me we should be eating more of them. The Marine Conservation Society also suggest they are slightly under-exploited. I’ve seen them all around the coast in the UK and have even picked some from the seashore in the South West. When I’ve searched for old English recipes with mussels they always seem to be an ingredient that is added to a stew or pie, and sometimes grilled. They are not always given centre stage and indeed have been called the poor man’s shellfish.

I didn’t have a whole lot at home yesterday but was able to pick up a bag of mussels on the way home for my dinner knowing that I didn’t have an awful lot of time before I had to go out again.  However, mussels are notoriously deceptive in that you always buy them thinking that they won’t take long to cook but you always forget about the de-bearding process. Mussels attach themselves to things with their beards. I’m quite pleased that humans don’t do the same.


When I got home and realized just how little food I had, I initially thought the worst. But mussels lend themselves to few ingredients so I went to the garden and pulled up a leek and took an apple out of the fruit bowl. I rinsed, chopped and fried the  leeks in only the water that still clung to its surface. I added the chopped apple and a little cayenne pepper for good luck. Next in was the some leftover homemade elderflower wine and then the mussels. Lid on. A few minutes later the mussels were ready and I stirred in a bit of cream and threw some herbs from the garden on it. Job done and very little washing up to do.

Mussels in a rush

I must have got the proportions in the sauce spot on because it was lovely. It was sweet but just fell short of overpowering the mussels and the cayenne pepper was just there in the background. To be honest, this was more luck than judgement. I trusted the force and it came through.

(Marine Conservation Society Website and Greenpeace’s take on sustainable fishing)

I love my Saturday morning breakfast. They invariably revolve around spinach or chard but this morning I did add something I’ve never had for breakfast before. Ox kidney. I do enjoy pigs kidneys but these ox kidneys were more brainlike in appearance and there was a smaller proportion of soft meat on them. Nevertheless, I sliced off the soft parts fried them in some butter with a portobello mushroom, added some rinsed spinach and allowed it all to wilt down before cracking an egg over the top and whisking it around to scramble it. It was quick and really enjoyable. I’m not sure I needed the egg but it was still nice. Not overcooking the kidney was extremely important, as it seems to be with all organs. Keep the difference in texture between the mushrooms and the kidney to a minimum, if you know what I’m getting at!

Roll on the day. It’s been glorious weather this week and today looks marvellous too. Fine day for a nice beer.

Classic Apples #1 – Egremont Russet

17 Mar

Apparently, this was ‘raised’ by Lord Egremont in the 1870s in a place called Petworth, Sussex, England. The fact that a Lord raised it makes it even more of a classic since he probably examined the skin with a monocle. This is a dry, crisp apple and is often said to be ‘nutty’. Despite the dryness of the skin this apple is a winner and is a belter in salads.

How do you like them apples?

15 Mar

Apples! I love them.

As I was biting into a particularly delicious and large Sussex-grown apple today, I started a thinking. Shouldn’t we be celebrating them more? I know we don’t like to sing and dance about good things in this little island of ours but why are we buying boring supermarket apples. When people come from abroad to our little island and ask about good produce, we invariably answer that we don’t know what is good. We hide it from ourselves and let supermarkets do our thinking for us. Apples love England. English weather loves apples. Did you know that you could eat a different variety of English-grown apple everyday for over 6 years without having to have the same one twice? Thousands of varieties. Dessert apples, cooking apples and cider apples, we have the lot and until quite recent history really respected them.

Nowadays, you could probably count the number of apples available in any supermarket on one hand and about half of these would probably be imported. I’m sure if this was Italy or Japan the situation would never be tolerated. Is it true that we don’t care about our fruit trees? . There are new housing estates built with names such as Orchard Way or Cherry Tree Gardens. No prizes for guessing what was there before the houses, yet a signpost is often the only remaining clue to the previous incarnation of the area. Why, when rebuilding, could these things not be made to co-exist? Perhaps there have been so many apples available that people just got plain bored with them. There is a fruit tree in nearly every garden in suburbia, but it can be a pain getting apples off the lawn. Industrially, nearly two-thirds of England’s orchard areas have disappeared in the last 50 years, and with them many traditional (and tasty) varieties, yet we still import blander varieties.

Apples are healthy and are a great culinary ingredient: Apple pies, cider and mussels, pork and apple, herring and apple, apple and cinnamon, apple this, apple that… They have been part of the food and landscape here for a couple of thousand years. The Victorians, in particular, ‘went mental’ for bringing on new varieties leaving us a cultural legacy, which we are squandering. Doom doom doom!! This sounds depressing, doesn’t it?

So why don’t we plant a few more traditional trees in our gardens, protect our orchards, demand local apples, cook with them a bit more, celebrate apple day, even go wassailing (even in pubs around London there are a few people who still do this). It would be nice to celebrate the good old English apple with a touch more pomp.