Today is the first anniversary of my blog. I would like to thank you all for reading my blog during the previous year, and for all your kind comments, which I’ve found so encouraging. I had considered a virtual afternoon tea party, but instead, to celebrate the occasion, I thought instead we might share some English apples, and maybe, after we’ve sampled some Devonshire Quarrendens and a few early season Discovery, we might have room for toffee apple cake with, of course, Devonshire cream.
I confess to having bought the green apples you can see in the bowl above simply because I knew they would look pretty in this bowl – a good enough reason, I think! And in this there is a story: I bought the bowl many years ago in an antiques’ shop in Totnes. I had seen it in the shop window over a period of several weeks, its price far too much for me to afford. But I was patient. Not everyone likes a bright pink lustre bowl, and sure enough, as the weeks passed, the bowl was still there and, gradually, the price was reduced until, eventually, it was a price I could afford, so I bought it. It is a piece of Fielding’s Crown Devon ware, and I love it.
I’m a little early in celebrating apples, but on 21st October it will be Apple Day here in England. The day is also Trafalgar Day, in celebration of the victory by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson over the combined navies of France and Spain at the Battle of Trafalgar. So, if we have a glass of apple juice or Calvados on that day, we might raise our glasses first to Lord Nelson (unless, of course, you are French or Spanish!) and also to the apple.
If you have read my previous post about Riverford Field Kitchen, you might remember my husband and my visit to the farm shop where I bought a selection of apples. One variety was the Devonshire Quarrenden, and it just so happens that in the October 1986 issue of Country Living magazine there was an illustration of this apple (I had cut it from the magazine and slipped it inside a favourite *apple book.) This apple was first recorded as long ago in Devon as 1678 and it has been grown in the county since then as it tolerates our higher-than-average rainfall. According to that article in Country Living, “it is an early season apple with shining crimson skin and crisp, juicy flesh of distinctive flavour, and a parent of the well-known Worcester Pearmain.”
The *apple book I have mentioned is one of my favourite books:
Roseanne Sanders is a botanical artist and this book, published in 1988 in association with the Royal Hortoicultural Society, is a glorious celebration of this fruit.
You feel you could pick the apples off the page, they are so beautifully painted, with their leaves and their blossom. The book has 288 illustrations, 122 of them in colour.
All the paintings are delicate watercolours, and opposite the paintings are descriptions of the apples. The book also has an essay on apple growing by Harry Baker (then) fruit officer at the RHS and one of Britain’s foremost authorities on apple growing.
Surprisingly, this most English of fruits actually comes from the Tien Shan Mountains, between China and Kazakhstan. I have read that it is likely that apples gradually spread into Europe through the Middle East, and several manuscripts from ancient Greece refer to apples and describe apple orchards.
The Wars of the Roses and the Black Death led to a decline in the production of both apples and pears in England until Henry VIII instructed his fruiterer, Richard Harris, to identify an introduce new varieties, which were planted in his orchard in Kent.
For those unfamiliar with English history, the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) were a series of battles between two rival factions of the Royal House of Plantagenet, the House of Lancaster (the Red Rose) and the House of York (the White Rose). The final victory went to Henry Tudor, from the House of Lancaster, and he eventually became King Henry VII. The Black Death (1346-1353) was a pandemic which, it is estimated, killed between 75 and 200 million people.
The development of new varieties of apples reached its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the Ribstone Pippin (shown below, also from the Country Living magazine of 1986) was a favourite of the early Victorians and was superseded by possibly the most famous of all eating apples, Cox’s Orange Pippin.
A direct result of being in the EU meant there were no restrictions on the importing of apples from abroad and this led to English growers facing great competition from high-yielding varieties which were difficult to grow here as they required a warmer climate – Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Granny Smith being examples. This led to many English orchards being taken out of production due to lack of profitability but there is currently something of a renaissance of orchards; people no longer want just five or ten varieties of apple from which to choose in the supermarket and are attending farmer’s markets and local farm shops in order to seek out different varieties.
In the book above there are lots of lovely apple recipes, both savoury and sweet
And finally, a slice of toffee apple cake for you, with Devonshire cream (pouring cream in this instance, I reserve clotted for scones.)
I hope you have enjoyed your virtual apple-tasting, the Devonshire Quarrendens were a little sharp I admit, but the early Discovery were tasty, weren’t they?
Until next time.