Around 2000 BCE, a sharp tasting, modest-sized ancestor of the apple grew in the mountains of Kazakhstan. Over time, the apple journeyed out of Asia and through Europe. The Romans brought the apple to the British Isles, although the Normans are responsible for introducing more varieties in the 1500’s AD.
Apples have been synonymous with health for millennia. Both the Greeks and the Romans believed the apple to be a cure-all. From the common cold to heart conditions and insomnia, the apple was used to treat a number of ailments.
When I was growing up during the 1980’s in the southern states of America, my annual check-up with the paediatrician was often rewarded with stickers. On the nurse’s desk, there lived a sticker that said, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Today, there is evidence to show that consuming apples can help deliver digestive relief; reduce appetite; improve bowel function, cholesterol and blood pressure; flush toxins and offer antiviral and anti-cancer support. One might say, apples are medicine.
It is important to take advantage of the favoured, fresh fruits in the UK during the breezy Autumn months. The poet Thomas Tusser notes, “September blow(s) soft ’til the fruit’s in the loft”. Waiting to harvest apples at their natural time can be the difference between a bland, bruised variety shipped from afar and a crisp, full-flavoured fruit from nearby.
There are a number of types of apples in England. Eaters tend to be sweeter and have lower levels of acidity and pectin leading them to soften faster. Cookers are more tart with higher amounts of acid and pectin keeping them firmer. Some local varieties to try are Golden Ball, Slack-ma-gurdle, Melcombe Russet and Buttery Door.
In order to appreciate apples at other times of the year, a method of preservation is needed. Dorothy Hartley reported in her book “Food in England” on a method of drying apples known as a biffin. Firm, sweet apples were peeled, cored and strung-up to hang or layered in wooden boxes. In modern times, it is common to dry apples in thin rings.
Whether your apples are biffins or rings, dried apples can be rehydrated to make applesauce, baked or roasted in the oven and numerous other dishes.
Apples are typically harvested between August and November. To find apples and apple products, check out Liberty Fields in Halstock or your nearby farmers market.
Mary Buesnel, MS
Growing Roots Wellness – Nature, Community & Wellbeing
Mary has an MS degree in Integrative Nutrition and Health with a concentration in Community Nutrition Education. She is currently studying an MA Food Studies degree with the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Exeter. Mary lives in West Dorset with her family and believes that connecting people with whole foods and where food comes from is a necessary step towards better health. Mary is passionate about providing young people and families with cookery skills and mindfulness knowledge to improve wellness. She is working with HOME in Bridport as a member of the Edible Garden team.
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Blog and photos kindly written and taken by our volunteer Mary Buesnel.