Deep roots

Categories: Features

Shane Holland is the executive chair of Slow Food UK: a global organisation that celebrates tradition, biodiversity, and the pleasure of good food. Each year on Slow Food’s Terra Madre Day, events are hosted across the country in an annual celebration; at Borough Market, it’s become tradition on this day for Slow Food to present the Market with the gift of an apple tree, as a symbol of friendship. Shane Holland tells us why this particular present is so pertinent

Terra Madre Day is celebrated on 10th December every year. It seeks to highlight our culinary traditions and heritage, both at home and overseas. Here in the UK, we use the day to remind ourselves that our landscape looks as it does because of food and farming – and that we all have a role to play in shaping it for the better.

It is now something of a tradition that each year for Terra Madre Day, Slow Food presents Borough Market with the gift of an apple tree. This year’s varietal is a great expectations from Brogdale’s National Fruit Collection, which is so rare it’s no longer sold commercially. The great expectations is also the UK’s latest nomination for the global Ark of Taste – the register of varieties we are at risk of losing forever, maintained by Slow Food.

A biodiversity bank
There are more than 2,500 varieties of apple indigenous to the UK, yet today 70 per cent of all the apples we eat come from just three varieties – and 70 per cent of those are imported. By registering varieties with the Ark of Taste we encourage their use and production, creating a living biodiversity bank to be called upon in times of need. Better still, these varieties are almost always far more interesting to eat.

The great expectations is a juicing apple that made its way over to Kent from Ireland. Here the name popularised because of the county’s connections with Charles Dickens. A blushed, green apple with firm, crisp flesh and a hint of acidity, it has a pronounced apple flavour and complements the existing trees at the Market – gifts from previous years – of several eaters, a cooker and a cider apple last year.

Cruel trick of nature
That an apple tree is given for Terra Madre Day is no accident. The blossom brings colour and scent on charcoal grey days – a cruel trick of nature, reminding us that while we may be in spring, it is not yet summer. This is followed by luscious fruit – even in their first year an apple or two can be found, but like the friendship they represent, the trees become bigger, stronger and more fruitful with every year that passes. Each year, the roots of the adjacent trees become intertwined and what were once separate trees becomes one single orchard.

Planted in the Market, they are part of the public space, itself sharing the values of Terra Madre: the celebration of food, culture and peoples from across the world. It’s a place where guest traders share space with stands from schools; a community hub, a place to stop, watch, eat and learn. A place for everyone. It is here that the orchard backdrop grows bigger every year, roots reaching out of the soil and branches intertwining. Just like friendships.

Positive purchases
While Terra Madre Day helps concentrate the mind, our purchases can have a positive effect every day. We are very proud that many of the traders at the Market source and grow products which can be found in the Ark of Taste, supporting culinary and agricultural heritage across the globe. You can find them by looking for the Slow Food snail insignia in their shops and stalls.