Apples have been tempting us since the garden of Eden. Fat free and fibre rich, they are handy sized packs of energy for tucking into lunch boxes, conveniently packaged in their own silky skin, and satisfyingly crunchy and sweet. They have a low glycaemic index, which means they release glucose into the bloodstream slowly and so keep hunger pangs at bay for longer. While they are a good source of vitamin C the amount varies between varieties and freshness. Research shows that a flavonoid (quercetin) in apples can apple lower blood cholesterol.
Years ago, during the cold winter months, apples were often the only fruit available and were carefully packed in newspaper or straw and stored. In the 40s and 50s my father had an old chest of drawers in the garden shed where apples and pears from local farms and our own single tree were carefully kept in their straw blankets away from frost. Then as soon as the stored fruits began to shrivel in the spring they were baked in their jackets and dolloped with custard, packed into pies, stewed to accompany meat and stuffed into dumplings. In Autumn hard working housewives made windfalls and crab apples into chutneys and jams and jellies, homemade and very potent wine and cider. Scrumping for apples was a favourite pastime of many a small boy (and girl).
The hundreds of varieties easily available all the year round now present a diversity of smell, flavour and texture Each variety has its culinary virtues.
The Bramley is the classic English cooker – green-skinned, and slightly acid-fleshed, it melts to a soft smoothness as a sauce for pork and ham. As it’s pectin-rich, it makes lovely jelly to flavour with herbs. Simply chop the whole fruit, cook to a purée with enough water to cover, drain through a cloth overnight and boil up the juice with its own volume of sugar until setting point is reached (dab a drop on a saucer and push with your finger: when it wrinkles, it’s ready). Stir in some chopped mint, thyme or tarragon, pot and seal.
Cox’s Orange Pippin bakes fluffily: simply core, stuff with raisins, drizzle with honey and cook in the oven along with the Sunday roast.
Egremont Russet – citrus-scented, and light-fleshed , ideal with strong cheese (not that we should have this regularly!) and delicious when cooked with cloves and cinnamon.
Discovery and Spartan – both sweet, crisp-fleshed, and scarlet-skinned. They have a faint flavour of raspberries and are gorgeous with duck or game or added in chunks to a chicken casserole near the end of the cooking time.
Fiesta (also called Red Pippin) is a cross between Cox and the crisp American variety Ida Red, has all the virtues but is a better keeper than Cox.
Granny Smith is beautiful with broccoli or red or dark-leaved cabbages.
Golden Delicious holds its shape when cooked and won’t collapse when pushed whole into a chicken or turkey with a moistening stuffing.
Gala from New Zealand, is similar to the Golden Delicious and available in petite size.
Empire, an American variety, is an all-rounder.
When choosing fruit, examine carefully for bruising or wrinkling, judge juiciness by the ratio of weight to volume in your hand, and use your nose to select for fragrance. Don’t discard any apple that has spent too long in the fruit bowl – just cut out the bad bits and cook the rest. It may not have all the virtues of a fresh one but will certainly be worth eating with chicken or pork.
This article was kindly supplied by Susan Booth, owner of Alive Fitness based in Derby.
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