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

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 was no exception: 7th December saw the gift of a black dabinett, a rare variety with deep, regal purple skin. The black dabinett 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.

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. Furthermore, these varieties are almost always far more interesting to eat.

A dessert, a cooker, a juicer
The black dabinett is a cider apple, originally grown in Somerset. The juice is dark, with a perfect bitter-sweet flavour, that makes for moreish cider. It complements the existing trees—gifts from previous years—of a dessert apple tree, a cooker, and a juicer.

Terra Madre Day is celebrated on 10th December every year and seeks to highlight our culinary traditions and heritage, both at home and overseas. This year the day was marked in 175 countries, from the simplest gatherings to large scale events. 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 can individually be part of the solution.

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.

Colour and scent
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 Hall, 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. This is the place where guest traders share space with stands from schools; where the demo kitchen showcases recipes from the four corners of the globe, all using ingredients from the Market. It is the 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.