Apples are in season this month. If you had to choose just one fruit to represent a country, then apples would surely be the one to represent Britain. They have been part of our culinary and horticultural heritage for centuries. Over the years Britain has been responsible for the development of thousands of different varieties of apples. Some discovered by chance as a randomly grown pip produced an outstanding variety and others developed to purposefully combine certain desired characteristics. No two trees grown from one apple’s pips will be exactly the same. The only way to ensure an exact reproduction is to take cuttings from the original tree and graft them onto a suitable rootstock.
Simply reproducing known varieties wasn’t enough though for one pioneering Victorian gardener and Thomas Andrew Knight wanted to determine the taste, colour, size and harvesting times of his creations as well. So, by imitating the pollinating role of bees, he developed a hybridising process to cross breed selected apple trees. This new method revolutionised apple growing and it heralded the development of multitudes of new varieties. A large number of which were produced by head gardeners of large country houses as they played a competitive game of one-upmanship. Serving novel fruits at the dining table was a favourite pursuit of wealthy Victorians so their gardeners were tasked with producing endless new varieties. Hybridising enabled them to develop a wide range of apples which were unique to their gardens.
Apples are fantastic in both sweet and savoury dishes. Whilst apple sauce is the traditional accompaniment to roast pork, pan fried slices of apple are a delicious alternative and great with sausages too. Chunks of apple add a lovely crunchy texture to salads. Apples are also the main ingredient in many autumn and winter puddings from crumbles, pies, tarts and cobblers to lighter creamy desserts such as apple snow. Not forgetting the classic baked apple filled with dried fruits, nuts and sugar. The addition of diced apple also gives an autumnal flavour to gingerbread, scones, flapjack - here's a recipe, muffins and cakes.
Apple trees do best in a sunny, sheltered position. Plant bare rooted trees from late autumn to early winter or container grown trees throughout the year. Support the young trees with stakes placed on the opposite side from the prevailing wind. Codling moths can damage the fruits so either apply grease bands to the trunk in late October or hang pheromone traps near the tree. If you haven’t got the space for a large tree, dwarf root stocks, step over trees, espaliers and columnar, minarette type trees are ideal for growing apples in smaller gardens. For help selecting suitable varieties, apple day events typically held in September and October are a fantastic source of information. They usually have displays of apples, orchard tours and experts on hand to answer your questions.