Apple season has arrived here in Somerset, and the fruits on each of our trees are busy ripening in quick succession. The orchard equivalent of a musical canon. There is a wonderful mix of eaters and cookers. Some are great for roasting, bubbling down into a compote, or turning into chutney. Others are best crunched straight from the tree or tucked neatly into a lunch box. And there are those that produce bucket-loads of juice, which we will bottle and pasteurise to last us through the year ahead.
The name of each apple variety is a bit of a mystery, as we haven’t been able to locate an orchard planting record or find any labels on the trees. However, with a little research, we have been able to identify some of them. The old Egremont Russet down by the stream, with its tough, ochre-skinned apples of complex, almost nutty, flavour. The two Spartan trees in the middle of the orchard, covered in shiny, maroon apples that wouldn’t look out of place at Snow White’s house. There’s a prolific Greensleves, that produces crisp, tangy fruits the colour of a mottled lime Starburst sweet. And, over by the cottage, is a variety of Cox that has rather oddly been trained into an espalier, despite its apparent large rootstock, which encourages it to vastly out-grow its horizontal guidelines every year.
The very first to ripen in the orchard are (if our identification skills are up to scratch) the Discovery apples. Beautiful, crimson skinned apples, dappled with yellow flecks. The deep red colouring runs into the white flesh, increasingly so as they ripen, patterning it with pink splashes and veins. The flavour is profoundly sweet and not dissimilar to a very ripe summer strawberry. We find they are best eaten as soon as they are picked, as the skin wrinkles and the flesh powders within just a few days.
Yesterday, we picked a big basketful of the Discovery apples, which have now very nearly finished for the year. We have a nifty, hand-turn apple peeling, coring and slicing machine, which quickly cut the fruits into little rings for us (we disengaged the peeler, preferring to leave the colourful skins on). We then transferred the apple slices onto the mesh trays of our dehydrator (we invested in an Excalibur dehydrator last year, which has been great, but it is also entirely possible to dry apple rings in an oven or just by running some string through them and hanging them up to air-dry). A few hours at 68°C turned them into very pretty pink apple crisps, which we then tumbled into a glass jar for storing. They make a lovely, healthy snack on their own and are great scattered onto cereal or porridge for breakfast. Our plan this year is to make a jar of apple crisps from each different eating apple variety in the orchard. Hopefully, by the end of October, we will have a colourful row of jars on the kitchen shelves to echo this year’s apple harvest, and keep us going until next season’s blossom arrives.