Last Sunday we went to Apple Day, a seasonal celebration of homegrown apples with events all around the country (although the ‘official’ date is October 21st; I guess Brighton was jumping the gun – check here for an event near you!). Mostly, we drank cider and tried to find freebies. However, the fact remains that it’s entirely absurd how most of us in the UK buy apples – very few varieties – all year round, imported from places as far away as New Zealand and China, while the apple is such a quintessentially English fruit, growing abundantly in up to 2000 different varieties, with a long season from August to October and storing well for the winter up into spring. Apple orchards have been a key part of our traditional landscape, but over 60% of apple (and 50% of pear) orchards have been lost since 1970. Kent lost 92% between 1946 and 2003! Supermarkets – the major power when it comes to agriculture – shop around the globe for low prices and bulk quantities, while rejecting many British apples for cosmetic reasons, not to mention only offering us a small selection of varieties covered in pesticides and sometimes even waxed with shellac (for the ’shine’).
Orchards are wonderful places. “They were – they are – magnificent reservoirs of wildlife, these old tree communities, abounding in insects, wild flowers, mosses and lichens, and birds such as nuthatches, treecreepers and woodpeckers; yet at the same time they produced a crop. They were the perfect blend of the wild and the cultivated, living symbols of how people could exist in harmony with the natural world. But to hard-pressed farmers, orchards were merely unwanted assets; to nature conservationists, who should have known better, they were commercial fruit trees; they weren’t part of nature. They fell through a gap in the conservationists’ consciousness; their value was invisible.” (from an excellent article in the Independent.
The situation is improving slightly, with traditional orchards now a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and a shift in public preference towards homegrown foods. Best thing though is to plant an apple tree in your garden if you have one, or support your local community orchard (or get one started! see the Common Ground website for more information)! And then make this tasty tart.
What you need for a 23cm/9” flan
150g plain flour
5 tbsp margarine
5 heaped tsp ground almonds
75g caster sugar
5 medium sized apples
1 tbsp flaked almonds
2 tbsp apricot jam/glaze (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
2. Sift the flour and rub in 4 tbsp margarine. Then add the almonds, sugar and a few drops of almond essence and rub through. Form it into a soft dough by adding a few splashes of soymilk.
3. Then press the mixture into a greased 9″ flan dish (preferably loose bottomed), spreading it out evenly.
4. Quarter, peel and finely slice the apples. Layer then in a spiral in the flan towards the centre.
5. Melt 1 tbsp margarine, then brush the apples with it. Sprinkle over some vanilla sugar and flaked almonds, and bake for 30 minutes.
6. Glaze with the warmed and sieved apricot jam if you wish and serve.