With their warm colours and crisp crunch, the first apples of autumn are especially welcome as the days get shorter. Farm shops, pick-your-own farms and proper greengrocers are great places for buying local varieties. They may have strange-sounding names – in Dorset, for example, we have Slack-ma-Girdle and Buttery Door. Others are oddly shaped, but don't be put off – there are real beauties to be enjoyed. Some are redolent of almonds or pear drops, while others have a whiff of peach. Gleaming red Rubens has exquisite pink-tinged flesh, while Christmas Pearmain is almost yellow. You might also come across cider apples. They are far too tart to eat but they give cider an unsurpassable flavour.
After a season of luscious summer fruit, it's easy to forget how good an apple can be – crisp, sweetly acidic and aromatic, and close to perfection eaten either alone or with a slice of good Dorset cheese. Once autumn is underway, though, other ideas spring to mind.
Raw apples can be sliced and added to salads. I think their all-important crunch is better in savoury rather than fruit salads. They are an essential component in the classic Waldorf Salad – a retro mix of walnuts, sliced celery and eating apples, preferably red-skinned, tossed with mayonnaise. They are also good with slivers of leftover goose or duck, crisp celery, watercress and clementine segments tumbled in a citrus vinaigrette.
An iconic British dish is baked apple. As famed food writer Elizabeth David wrote in 1962: "There is no more chilling dish in the whole repertory of English cooking than those baked apples in their macintosh skins". I have to agree – mushy acidic flesh bursting from leathery skin is not nice. Cooking apples are far better peeled, thickly sliced and packed into a homely pie or relegated to savoury sauces and purées.
I have never really understood the peculiarly British habit of classifying apples as cookers and eaters. Unless you are specifically after the soft flesh of a cooking apple, most eating apples are perfectly suited to cooking. They are excellent in savoury dishes such as braised red cabbage, or with black pudding and a creamy cider-based sauce. They are also good roasted with a joint of pork. They hold their shape well and cut the richness of the meat.
Eating apples really come into their own, however, thinly sliced and baked in
an open-faced tart. They become stickily crisp at the edges and the juices concentrate to a delectable sweetness. As an alternative, try them in Two-Apple Pizza with Walnuts I have combined fluffy cooking apples and dense-fleshed eating apples so you can experience the contrasting textures.
Bramley Seedling, green-red flushed skin, acidic flesh. Perfect for apple pie.
Howgate Wonder, large mottled red-green. Sharp when cooked, sweet enough to eat raw.
Grenadier, misshapen, lumpy green skin. Superb when cooked, excellent for pies and jam.
Arthur Turner, large round, yellow-red flushed skin. Soft smooth flesh when cooked. Good in sauces and purées.
Christmas Pearmain, pleasant aromatic fruity flavour. Juicy crisp flesh.
Claygate Pearmain, peardrop aroma, almondy flavour. Crisp flesh, excellent balance of sweetness and acidity.
Cox's Orange Pippin, strong apple aroma, unsurpassed fresh flavour. Good crunch, excellent balance of sweetness and acidity. The classic English apple. Gravenstein, juicy crisp flesh, strong flavour, good balance of sweetness
Ingrid Marie, punchy flavour with hint of aniseed. Crisp fine-textured flesh,
Rubens, sparkling flavour, pink-tinged fine-textured flesh.
© Christine McFadden, October 2013