The humble apple.
In all honesty, it’s never been my fruit of choice, and certainly not one I’d ever really got hugely excited about before. Sweaty and bruised in a lunch box, or found half eaten rolling around the floor. Skin spat out by the toddler, or demands from the kids to have them cut up into peeled and cored slices.
That said, I have always had my favourite varieties. I’m quite partial to the tart and crunchy Braeburn or Cox, and since owning two fruit bowl minesweepers I have probably gone for the best quantity:cost ratio bargain bags. Our girls certainly can get through an apple a day to keep the doctor away.
This time of year the simple apple comes into it’s own…beautifully in season just in time for an apple sauce to smother your on roast pork, and perhaps a delicious crumble to enjoy afterwards with steaming custard. It wouldn’t be the start of Autumn without those British classics would it?
But that’s pretty much where my relationship with the apple resided. I had never appreciated the history of that piece of fruit, it’s beginnings, it’s journey or it’s heritage. Apples have just always been there, in the background. A is for apple, Eve shouldn’t have bitten into that apple…come to think of it neither should Snow White.
It all changed this week, when I was invited to a secret supper club to celebrate British Apples and Pears, and go on an adventure in Fruit.
The hubby and I drove through the glorious Kent countryside towards Faversham – a town we frequent regularly due to family connections, to Monk Farm. On a Thursday evening with unusually warm sunshine setting, we stepped in to an orchard glistening with ruby red apples.
A little unsure of what this event was really all about, we tentatively entered a magically decorated ‘Bake-Off’ tent and were handed delicious locally produced apple juice cocktails. I drunk both, whilst the hubby sourced out a virgin-apple-juice. Live music in the background, and a beautifully laid table with a rustic charm that could have made this venue fit for a wedding celebration.
Introducing the event was Marcus Bean, a celebrity chef and owner of Brompton Cookery school, who has a clear passion for food, where it has come from and what we should be doing with it.
As the Orchard tour kicked off it became apparent the guests for the evening were a combination of Apple & Pear growers, Marks and Spencers Fruit buyers, The Adventures In Fruit team, Representatives from Worldwide foods, oh and some bloggers. It’s fair to say it was a collision of two very different worlds!
“So are you one of these ‘Bloggers’ then? Nice to meet you. I grow Apples.”
The sunset tour over the Orchard was not only incredibly beautiful, but it started to unravel what this event was all about. Each of the growers talked about the relentless work that goes into growing that apple in your fruit bowl. The innovation and risks in trying new varieties, which can take three years to get to market. The 18 years the trees have been growing in that field, and the five generations of growers in the family who have nurtured the orchard.
Immediately, that apple seems a little bit more special.
As we ambled around the orchard, listening to the stories unravel, one touched me as I knew it would do my readers. One new variety of Apple was unnamed and looking for inspiration, Marks and Spencers opened up a competition for its employees to name the Lemony yellow apple. The worthy winner, was a store manager who had lost his young daughter to Leukaemia. He said the colour of that Apple reminded him of his ‘Little Ray of Sunshine’, and now, you can find the Amelia apple for sale in Marks and Spencers – A donation from the sale of every bag goes to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
It was clearly evident as I sat at the table with one of the head buyers from M&S, some wonderfully charismatic Farmers, and a lady from Worldwide fruit, that this is a collaboration between all parties. Each of the people we met were ‘lifers’ in their trade, and the relationship between them was clear. I asked at one point who was driving this whole campaign, to which one guy replied “As cheesy as it is, the answer is none of us – it’s our customers. They want British, local grown, high quality produce. We want to look after our growers and support them in the risks they take for what the customers want.” Nice answer.
The guests gave us a tiny, temporary insight into the business of fruit growing. I asked one lady if this event was very unusual for the industry. “Not at all, last night we were all out at the British Launch of the Apples and Pears season”. Who knew Apple growing could be so glam. Indeed, our host Simon Bray has won several awards for his fruit – even ‘Britain’s tastiest’ Apple. Impressive.
As the food Marcus Bean had prepared rolled out, we ate the finest wood fired oven Pizza I have ever had, along with some incredible Apple & Pear inspired salads.
The guys at our table were pretty lovely – We chatted blogging, family and of course fruit. I learnt that you can now buy a coconut with a ring pull from M&S and drink the unblemished water straight from the organic coconut. Apparently it’s a pretty good hangover cure. I discovered that there are tiny bite size pears on their way to our shelves. I’m on the lookout for a golden kiwi. And, of course, I learnt about Apples.
I was literally bursting to try the P’apple – a new variety with flesh consistency like watermelon. I am already smitten with the ‘Smitten’, a combination of Royal Gala, Braeburn amongst others. The Rockit, that’s one I’m going to be searching for on the shelves.
We were educated in the criteria that goes into picking the Apples at harvest time using the ‘Perfect Pick’ method. An exclusive index value which determines when the fruit is at the correct time to harvest. Concerned about wastage, we were reassured to know there is a destiny for all apples which don’t fit the bill – to end up in processed products such as Cider, pies or sauces.
As we polished off our Apple and Pear fool (Thank you Marcus & Team!) Marcus went through a Q&A session with the panel of growers. What shone through was the camaraderie between the growers and the buyers and their passion for what they do. Who knew the biggest risk to a fruit farmer is a hail storm? I’ll forever be thinking of those guys when I see an icy shower.
It really was incredible to see how much goes into the growing, harvesting, storing and buying process. We have literally driven past those Orchards time and time again, never giving it a moment’s thought, and certainly never consciously connecting our neighbours with the apples in our fruit bowl.
As we unpacked our goodie bag the next day, the fruity contents had a whole new meaning. I can safely say I will never look at an Apple or pear the same way again, and I hope, if you are reading this, that you might not too.
P.S. You have to try the P’apple!
Disclosure: We were invited to the Secret Supper Club event to celebrate British Apples & Pears. All opinions are my own.