Ahead of Apple Day, Angela Clutton celebrates the revival of forgotten heritage varieties
Take a wander round Borough Market at the moment and you will quickly run out of fingers (maybe even toes, too) if you try to count the number of apple varieties available. Some of them are small, imperfectly round, ideally sized for a lunchbox and with skin flecked all the way from green to cheek-blushing pink. Some are larger, and truly ‘apple green’. Some give the most fabulous crisp crunch as you slice into them; others give their juice more freely. All have the vibrant flesh that tells you they are going to taste good.
Happily, it’s a far cry from the predictable handful of varieties that are on store shelves week-in, week-out, which barely scratch the surface of this fruit’s diversity of use and flavour. It is genuinely exciting to see many of us wanting to buy more intriguing, flavoursome apples. We’re in an apple renaissance that is being led by growers who focus on the heritage varieties, and the shoppers who choose them.
As with so many other fruits, we have the Romans to thank for introducing non-crab apples to Britain to start with. But it wasn’t until around the time of Henry VIII that apples became embedded in our harvests and in our lives, with many different kinds of apples being imported and then propagated.
Apple variety explosion
The 1700s and the 1800s saw a bit of an apple variety explosion but come the mid-20th century, it wasn’t diversity that apple sellers—and buyers—wanted. Commercial viability meant uniformity and mass supply. Our UK orchards couldn’t offer that, and consequently nearly two-thirds of the apple orchards across the country disappeared between the 1950s and the turn of the millennium. For any lover of apples—or agriculture—that is a slightly heartbreaking stat. Here’s another: nearly three-quarters of the apples consumed across the UK these days are imported.
Thank goodness, then, for the non-commercial growers, community orchards and—perhaps especially—the Brogdale Collections that have focused on protecting our heritage varieties. Brogdale will be a familiar name to Borough Market shoppers, as several of the traders stock their fruits. Not all supposed 7,500 -odd apple varieties are in their collection, admittedly, but there is a fair few and, almost more importantly, not the same ones all the time.
Apples from Brogdale and other farms get supplied to the Market in small batches and at different stages, according to which variety is in season. It’s a throwback to how we used to enjoy apples and helps keep the enjoyment of them fresh.
Pick an apple variety you’ve never tried before, maybe one you’ve never even heard of before, take a bite and you will discover for yourself just how delicious these forgotten varieties can be—and why they’re worth saving. That’s what I’ll be doing on Borough Market’s Apple Day: come and join me.
Join Angela for tips, tastings and recipes Sunday 22nd October in the Market Hall, 12-1:30pm and 2-3:30pm