Saturday, 25 September 2010

Passionate about apples

I'm passionate about apples, having worked in a place in the early 90s with a large orchard and apple store. You just can't beat an English apple for taste, after that I never bought anything else in the shops. I learned all about the different varieties, how to grow them, how to store them and while I don't have the land for such things here, I decided I had to grow them on my little plot. Most people these days don't know how an apple should taste, think they should be green and tart (the fault of all those golden delicious apples) and a lot of growers didn't bother to grow traditional varieties for many years. Thankfully, that is changing a bit now, and it is easier to buy English apples, at least in the autumn and winter. With dwarfing M27 rootstocks, anyone can grow an apple tree somewhere.
These are the Katy apples which I picked a few weeks ago and which are now perfectly ripe. I left them in their crates for a while, and then sorted them, putting those with damage or no stalk to one side for quick use as they won't keep. Then I used some paper kitchen roll to wipe them over and remove the dirt. These apples have a waxy coating when ripe (like a lot of early apples), as a result you can't really wash the dirt off, wiping is the best way and then they're really shiny.
This is the first of the fruit from my new Spartan tree. This fell in the high winds recently, far too early, so I've put it with the Katy in the hope it will ripen. Another little known fact about apples is that they are ready to pick when you gently lift an apple, move it 90 degrees from the branch and it gently detaches - no need to pull. Or you can wait until they start falling off! Spartan is probably my favourite apple, and this does make it into the shops in October. One side will turn a deep purple colour when ripe and it has a very distinctive taste, quite unlike any other apple.

Once you know about apples, you can identify them by shape and colour pattern. Here are three of my four types (the Blenheim Orange is still on the tree). The one on the left is a Worcester Pearmain, a 19th century variety which I picked today but which isn't ripe yet. Dark red, with a distinctive pattern around the stalk and in shape rounded but bigger at the top than the bottom. In the middle is Spartan, a flatter type (like many late apples), with one side which will turn purple when ripe. On the right is Katy, which is more rounded and bright red with yellow streaks. The only main type of apple I don't have is a russet, the very latest apple which has a thicker skin and lasts through the winter, often only becoming ripe after Christmas. Maybe I'll have one someday.

So this autumn if you can find some homegrown apples in your local shops, do try them. Sweet, tasty and I can guarantee you'll never eat a Golden Delicious again!
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