Apples of all kinds

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

In this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness I’ve been thinking about apples. I’ve always thought of them as the quintessential English fruit but looking at data on world apple production collated by the United States Food and Agriculture Association. I see that China rules the apple world producing an impressive 31 million tonnes in 2008. The US is in second place producing a mere 4 million tonnes. The UK languishes in 37th place with its meagre production of 243,000 tonnes, narrowly pipped (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun) by Switzerland’s 255,000 tonnes.

Apples featured during our trip to Switzerland this summer. The Swiss, like the English, claim the apple as their own. After all it was an apple that Swiss folk hero William Tell shot from his son’s head to prove his prowess in archery.

We saw this luscious golden version of William Tell’s apple in the sculpture park at Martigny, Switzerland which we visited in August. The artist is French sculptor Claude Lalanne (b. 1924)

And here is the real thing, apples growing in a ProSpecieRara orchard in what might be called William Tell Country, the shores of the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne to the English speaking world, with iconic Swiss mountain Pilatus in the background. This was a view from the second week of our Summer 2010 Swiss trip as we ascended the Bürgenstock on foot rather than usual tourist option of funicular railway and spectacular outdoor lift.

By the way, ProSpecieRara http://www.prospecierara.ch/ is the Swiss Foundation for the Cultural and Genetic Diversity of Plants and Animals, a sort of super Brogdale. They hit the headlines recently with a taut-skinned longlived rare apple variety which is now being used in a facecream used by Michelle Obama.

I digress so back to the fruit itself. Apples from our neighbours’ garden greeted us on our return home in early September. Their enterprising daughters were giving away these beauties door to door in return for a donation to charity. I’m not sure what variety they were but they were crisp and sweet and worked well for both cooking and eating:

I was inspired to depart from the usual pie or crumble option and to try out two different apple recipes. The first was a new one for me, a traditional Brown Betty pudding, the recipe taken from the ever reliable Four Seasons cookbook. The second was the resurrection of what’s become a family classic, an apple and walnut cake from Nigella Lawson’ “How to be A Domestic Goddess”.

The apples turned out to be one that held their shape after cooking rather than “falling” into a delicious fluff in the way that Bramleys do. The Betty would have been better with a Bramley type apple I think as all the ingredients would have melded together. Served with a dollop of proper custard, it was nevertheless a satisfying conclusion to a ribsticking Sunday lunch:

Now that I’ve tinkered with Nigella Lawson’s cooking instructions (I’ve found that a lot of the recipes in the Domestic Goddess book need road testing and refining before they’re safe to use) this is a reliable recipe for an unusual but easy to make cake. The flavours of walnut oil and lemon zest, plus the grappa soaked sultanas (my refinement to the recipe which originally specified rum) marry perfectly with the apples and lift their flavour. You can almost kid yourself its good for you too.

Here are the two recipes in case you too have a glut of apples on your hands. They’re both good enough to go out and buy apples for too if you don’t have any homegrown ones.

Recipe for Apple and Apricot Brown Betty

From Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book. I’ve tinkered with it only to adjust the dried apricot instructions as these days all you can find are the ready to eat type so no need to soak overnight.

Ingredients

1/4 lb (115g) dried apricots, the soft type ready to eat type, roughly chopped
1 and 3/4 lb (800g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
6 oz (175g) coarse fresh white breadcrumbs
2 and 1/2 oz (70g) melted butter
2-3 oz (55-85g) blanched almonds
grated rind of 1 small orange
4-6 oz (115-175g) brown sugar (I used a dark soft Muscovado)
more butter for dotting

Toss the crumbs into the melted butter so they absorb it evenly. Spread a thin layer of crumbs onto the base of a porcelain soufflé dish. Cover with a mixture of the coarsely chopped apples, apricots and almonds. Sprinkle with a little orange rind and some of the sugar. Repeat the layers until the dish is full, finishing with a layer of crumbs. Dot with butter and sprinkle over any remaining sugar. Bake at 180 to 190 degrees C until golden and crisp. Good with cream, perhaps clotted cream, or proper custard.

Recipe for Apple and Walnut Cake

Adapted from a recipe in “How to be a Domestic Goddess” which in turn started life in Anna del Conte’s “Secrets from an Italian Kitchen”

Ingredients

100g sultanas
75ml grappa
150 ml walnut oil (or half and half mixture of walnut oil and extra virgin English rapeseed oil which I used)
200g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
450g eating apples (don’t use a Bramley type apple for this recipe as distinct nuggets of cooked apple are what’s required in the finished cake) peeled, cored and cut into small cubes (1/2 cm dimension is about right)
zest of a lemon
100g walnuts

Put the sultanas into a small saucepan and bring to the boil then set aside to plump up.

Line a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin with bakewell paper and preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.

Beat the oil and sugar together in a large bowl, and add the eggs one at a time, beating until it looks a bit like mayonnaise. A wooden spoon and some elbow grease work fine here. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, folding in with a metal spoon. Stir in the apples, lemon zest, sultanas with any residual grappa and walnuts. The batter should be fairly stiff.

Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin, level the surface and place in the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 160 degrees C. After a further 30 minutes, check the cake and if it’s browning too quickly, cover the top with a disc of foil. The cake will be ready after an hour, or maybe an hour and fifteen minutes. Check with a skewer after an hour.

Let the cake stand for 20 minutes before turning out. It’s delicious eaten slightly warm but will behave better in terms of cutting into neat slices, if left overnight, wrapped in foil before you try it. I can’t comment on its keeping qualities as it’s never lasted more than a day or so in our greedy household!

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Guten Morgen Von Österreich: Austrian breakfast

September 2, 2010 § 4 Comments

It was during winter holidays in Austria that I first began to gain an understanding of the German (in the widest sense) concept of gemütlichkeit (usually translated as cosiness but meaning much much more). At the Hotel Karl Schranz in the resort town of St Anton in the Tirol, this concept was embodied in the dining room with its wood panelling, flickering candlelight, pink linen napkins, and perfect attentive service. The eponymous Herr Schranz would occasionally grace us with his regal presence: the skiing wild child of the 1960s now transfigured into portly gentleman hotelier.

Herr Schranz clearly runs a tight ship as breakfast at his hotel was always an absolute delight – fruit juices decanted into glass jugs (my favourite being “Multivitamines” a bright orange concoction big on carrot and passion fruit juice); müsli and other cereals; delicious thick yoghurt; fruit salad; all kinds of jam, boiled eggs; and best of all wonderful bread – multigrain loaves thick with pumpkin and other seeds, rye bread, white bread and the distinctive and ubiquitous semmel white rolls.

Here is the Karl Schranz experience recreated at home as best I could:

A trip to Chorlton’s legendary Barbakan bakery and delicatessen provided most of what was needed in terms of wonderful fresh bread, cheese and ham. Chorlton is a suburb of South Manchester with a cluster of good food shops – the Unicorn grocery for fruit, vegetables and vegetarian items; Frosts the butchers for excellent meat (including unusual items like squirrel from time to time!) ; Out of the Blue fishmongers for properly fresh fish filleted in front of you, bags of clams and the like…is it worth moving house to have all this on my doorstep I wonder? For now, food shopping in Chorlton remains an occasional treat.

Here’s the Barbakan shop-front, a little unprepossessing from the outside but a real treasure-trove inside. My hands were too full and the shop too busy for me to take a good photo inside. On sunny Saturday mornings, the queue for fresh bread stretches out of the door so best to get there early.

I’ve just checked out the website http://www.barbakan-deli.co.uk/ and see that they have recently won, very deservedly, the 2009/10 Manchester Food and Drink Festival’s “Best Food and Drink Retail Outlet” award.

Barbakan’s 2 founders are Polish and much of their bread has a distinctly Eastern European feel – lots of rye loaves, and both caraway and poppy seeds are a preferred flavouring. Sadly on the morning I called they were fresh out of both Vienna sticks and Kaiserbrot, both of which would have been perfect for my Austrian theme. Instead, I opted for two loaves (German Altenburg rye bread “the true taste of Bavarian rye” , and a second rye loaf this one flavoured with caraway) and and some Polish poppy seed biegles, the originator of the modern US bagel. After all, poppy seeds are popular in Austria too most startlingly in the form of a main course germknödel (poppy seed dumpling) served with lashings of custard…I digress, so back to the bread, pictured below:

A true Austrian Hausfrau would have made all her own jams and preserves. Mine were all bought on this occasion, but as a nod to tradition I made a simple blackcurrant compôte to serve with yoghurt from the tempting looking punnet of blackcurrants that came from the Unicorn grocery just across the road:

Pictured with the blackcurrants are an equally tempting bag of ripe apricots and the fabulous Glebelands Road grown salad leaves – you can’t get more locally grown salad than this unless it’s in your back garden of course.

Here’s the finished compôte together with yoghurt and some pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top. Austrians are nuts about pumpkins in any shape or form. Especially good is the deep green roast pumpkin seed oil which gives a wonderful flavour to salad dressings and, drizzled on top, to pumpkin soup.

All very pretty, but it takes a lot of effort to keep up this gemütlichkeit business – fresh flowers from the garden, best china, freshly laundered napkins and so on. The Austrian Hausfrau must be chained to the kitchen keeping up appearances. So for now it’s back to toast and cereal on the usual crockery, until our next international breakfast, this time from Azerbaijan…

Barbakan contact details

67-71 Manchester Rd
Chorlton cum Hardy,
Manchester
M21 9PW

Telephone: 0161 881 7053

http://www.barbakan-deli.co.uk/

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