From Adam and Eve to Snow White, the apple’s place in popular lore is testament to its long history of cultivation and consumption the world over.
The age-old snack has worked its way into our language, too; from the lovestruck ‘apple of my eye’ to the jingoistic ‘as American as apple pie’.
A hardy fruit with a long shelf life, the apple can be harvested in summer and kept in cold storage during the winter months. Not surprising, then, that as well as being one of the world’s oldest domesticated fruits, the apple is one of its most cultivated: in 2002, 45 million tonnes were produced around the world, mostly in China as well as Argentina and the United States.
Apples form the basis of some of the world’s best-loved desserts, from the English apple Charlotte, the American brown Betty and the German Apfelstrudel to the very French tarte aux pommes.
It’s also a classic match for pork – its acid works to counteract the meat’s richness; likewise with bitey cheeses such as cheddar or Derby as part of a ploughman’s lunch.
In Australia, most varieties are available from March-April until December. Royal gala and the smaller Jonathan are the first to appear in February, followed by the jonagold, a hybrid of the Jonathan and golden delicious, which can be eaten raw or cooked. The golden delicious is perfect caramelised in a tarte Tatin, while the sweet, aromatic red delicious is best eaten raw or in salads. The readily available Granny Smith takes its name from New South Welshman Maria Ann Smith who, in the 1860s, chanced upon a new cultivar. The ‘Granny’ is ideal for cooking as it disintegrates into a purée easily. Fuji, with its pretty blush, holds its texture when baked, while Braeburn has a sweet to tart flavour. The pink lady and sundowner are hybrids of the golden delicious and Lady William and are quite large varieties with firm, red to yellow skin. Lady William is a beautiful eating apple.
This year, expect to see smaller, blemished fruit after a growing season marked by drought, hail and frost. The upside, however, is that flavours will be more intense. Store apples in the refrigerator for up to one week to maintain their freshness and bring to room temperature before eating. Picked apples will continue to ripen if left at room temperature.
Apples can be eaten raw, grated, sliced or chopped and added to salads or juiced. They can be roasted, poached and stewed or baked into puddings, pies, tarts, crumbles and cakes. Stewed and puréed, they can be used in sweet and savoury sauces. Once cut, an apple’s flesh will oxidise quickly. To prevent this, drizzle the flesh with lemon juice or place slices in acidulated water (water with vinegar, lemon or lime juice added) until you need to use them. Being a natural storehouse of pectin, apples are perfect in preserves, either singly or with other fruits. Their juice is often used as a setting agent in jam.
*For pickled apple and cabbage, coarsely grate 1 apple, shred 1 cup of red cabbage and thinly slice 1 baby fennel. Heat olive oil in a saucepan, add vegetables and cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Add ¼ cup cider vinegar and season to taste with ground clove, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until liquid is almost evaporated. Serve with pork and fennel sausages and mashed potato.
*For Bircher muesli, combine grated apple, oats, oatbran and apple juice in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir through yoghurt, sliced grapes, toasted slivered almonds and honey to taste.
*For a tarte fine, preheat oven to 180C. Cut ready-made puff pastry into a rectangle and place on a greased oven tray. Prick pastry with a flat fork, leaving a 1cm border. Arrange apple slices within the border, then brush apple and pastry with melted butter. Combine caster sugar and cinnamon and scatter over apples. Bake for 15 minutes or until pastry is golden and crisp. Serve with vanilla ice-cream.
*For roasted apples with Spanish onions, preheat oven to 200C. Cut unpeeled and cored apples into wedges, cut Spanish onions into wedges and scatter over a roasting pan. Scatter with sage leaves, drizzle with olive oil and cider vinegar and season to taste with brown sugar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 30 minutes or until golden and tender. Serve with roast pork.
Berries, brandy, Calvados, cardamom, cheese, cinnamon, citrus, cream, dried fruit, duck, eggs, golden syrup, honey, nutmeg, nuts, pears, pastry, pork, quince, shellfish, vanilla and witlof.
Bake them, stew them or grab one on the run. Since time immemorial, apples have never strayed from fashion.