Ahhh, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ is upon us again. Berries are on the trees, leaves are turning yellow and russet, the nights are drawing in, the harvest is home….
Speaking of harvests, 2013 has been a bumper year for apple crops in the UK and it’s all down to the weather. The wet autumn last year, followed by an icy spring and this year’s hot summer are apparently perfect conditions for producing apples which are rosy in colour and bursting with flavour.
How many types of apple are there?
Apples have been grown in the UK since roman times and (interesting fact alert!) apple trees are actually a member of the rose family. But how many types of apple would you be able to name? 10? 15 at a push?
You might be surprised to learn that there are in fact more than 7500 varieties of apple produced worldwide. However, although apples are probably the most common orchard fruit in the UK, we are not among the world’s top apple producers; this accolade goes to China and the USA, followed by Turkey, Poland and Italy.
Apple trees take 4 to 5 years to produce their first fruit. So if you’re thinking of brewing your own cider you’ll have to wait a while. However once you’ve harvested them, they will keep for 3 to 4 months if stored correctly. The ideal environment is somewhere frost-free and cool, so a shed or garage is ideal. Wrap the apples individually in newspaper and store on a shelf or seed tray.
Why eat seasonal food?
British apples are in season right now, so can be enjoyed at their very best. Eating seasonal food means that it only tastes good and retains more nutrients – the fresher the food, the better the taste – it should also be cheaper to buy. This is because there are no importation costs from abroad. Another good reason for eating seasonal fruit and vegetables is the fact that the CO2 emissions associated with transportation are much lower.
Other fruit and vegetables in season include sweetcorn, plums, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, blackberries, runner beans, leeks, cauliflower, butternut squash and potatoes. This website www.eatseasonably.co.uk is a good source of information on what’s in season when. So get buying British and make the most of all the season has to offer. To start you off, here are a couple of tasty seasonal recipes:
Mary Berry’s Very Best Apple Dessert Cake
225g self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
225g caster sugar
2 large eggs
½ tsp almond extract
150g butter, melted
250g cooking apples, peeled and cored
25g flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Lightly grease a deep 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
Measure the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, almond extract and melted butter into a bowl. Mix well until blended, then beat for a minute.
Spread half this mixture in the prepared tin. Thickly slice the apples and lay on top of the mixture in the tin, piling mostly towards the centre. Using 2 dessert spoons, roughly spoon the remaining mixture over the apples. This is an awkward thing to do, but just make sure that the mixture covers the centre well as it will spread out in the oven.
Sprinkle with the flaked almonds.
Bake in the preheated oven for 1¼-1½ hours until golden and coming away from the sides of the tin.
(Recipe taken from Mary Berry’s website)
Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
1 Kg butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch sage leaves – chop half, leave the rest whole
1.5 litres vegetable stock
1 onion, finely chopped
300g risotto rice
1 small glass white wine
50g parmesan cheese, grated
Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Toss the squash in 1 tbsp oil together with the chopped sage. Scatter into a shallow roasting tin and roast for 30 mins until it is brown and soft.
While the squash is roasting, prepare the risotto. Bring the stock to the boil and keep on a low simmer. In a separate pan, melt half the butter over a medium heat. Stir in the onions and sweat gently for 8-10 mins until soft but not coloured, stirring occasionally. Stir the rice into the onions until completely coated in the butter, then stir continuously until the rice is shiny and the edges of the grain start to look transparent.
Pour in the wine and simmer until totally evaporated. Add the stock, a ladleful at a time and stirring the rice over a low heat for 25-30 mins, until the rice is cooked al dente (with a slightly firm, starchy bite in the middle). The risotto should be creamy and slightly soupy. When you draw a wooden spoon through it, there should be a wake that holds for a few moments but not longer.
At the same time, gently fry the whole sage leaves in a little olive oil until crisp, then set aside on kitchen paper. When the squash is cooked, mash half of it to a rough purée and leave half whole. When the risotto is just done, stir though the purée, then add the cheese and butter and leave to rest for a few mins. Serve the risotto scattered with the whole chunks of squash and the crisp sage leaves.
(Recipe taken from BBC Good Food website)