This weekend we went to pick some apples. I know of a place where there are secret apple trees. They stand in no mans land, visible from the path but hard to access. Reaching them means scrambling down a ditch and climbing the other side, brushing though long grass and thistles.
My son and I took the dog and plenty of bags. The dog raced around happily, playing hide and seek in the long grass while we picked some apples. Leaving with three bags full and a dog whose coat was full of sticky burrs we carried our harvest home. It was time to get baking.
The timing was apt as English Heritage had challenged me to create an apple recipe as part of their apple festival at Audley End House and Gardens.. This takes place on 26th and 27th September and is a celebration of all things apple. It is a family festival with games, chances for the children to practice being William Tell by shooting apples with bows and arrows, gardening tips, cookery displays and much more. There are also apples, over 100 types of different apples.
The dish I was challenged to make was a historical recipe Pippin Pie. The recipe details were sketchy, it was a bit like the technical challenge on Great British Bake Off. The recipe was taken from the cookbook of Jemima, Marchioness Grey, c.1740-60 and these were the details.
6 large apples,
4oz grated ratafia biscuits or macaroons,
4 spoonfuls of white wine,
rind and juice of 1 lemon,
4 egg yolks,
Bake the apples, and purée them with the other ingredients.
Line a dish with puff pastry and full with the apple mixture.
As you can see I had to guess the size of the spoonfuls, how long to bake and if I should bake the pastry blind before adding the filling. It was going to be fun. I started with the apples, the recipe called for six large apples. The apples I picked were rather small so I decided to double the quantity and add one for luck. I cored 13 apples and placed them on a baking tray. I put them in the oven at 180C, Gas Mark 4 and left them in the oven until they looked soft and squishy. This took about forty minutes. I guessed they needed to be soft as I needed to purée them.
The recipe then called for ratafia biscuits or macaroons, which I found difficult to source. I did find a recipe for ratafia biscuits but I also discovered they were similar to amaretti biscuits, just a little smaller and darker. I managed to find amaretti biscuits so I substituted them. I then mashed all the filling ingredients together using my potato masher. I was tempted to use my food mixer but as it was a historical recipe I felt this would be cheating. The filling mixture looked like brown sludge but smelt amazing. I might have overestimated the wine by adding four tablespoonfuls but the recipe did say spoons and wine will never spoil a recipe.
The next question was if I should blind bake the pastry. I decided that as I was using puff pastry then it was likely to puff up which would not make a great base for the pie. I just rolled out the pastry, added the filling and then put on the puff pastry top. I made a small hole in the top then put it into the oven to bake. I left it in until the top was brown, around 45 minutes.
The resulting pie did not look elegant but tasted gorgeous. The addition of the other ingredients along with the apple really made the pie taste amazing. It was the perfect pie to celebrate the apple, which is one of the nations oldest fruits. It is hard to date apples, they have been in Britain for thousands of years.
The prehistoric apples were generally crab apples and grew across Europe and Britain. I am not sure how you tell the difference between an apple and a crab apple by looking at them, crab apples are smaller and more bitter but can still be used in cooking.
Apples really came into style with the arrival of the Romans in AD 43 – 410. As well as eating them raw they cooked them and served them alongside pork. Medieval times brought apples pies and potage’s, the rich adding spices like aniseed as a status symbol. The poorer used honey to sweeten them.
It was really during Tudor and Georgian times that the range of apples started to expand. Tudors had Reinette, Pippins and the Nonpareil as well as the Russet. Georgians brought us the Bramley and the orange pippin and got more creative in their cookery with apple fritters, pies and preserves making an appearance.
The modern apple made its appearance in Victorian times. They had more than 1500 varieties available to them and got adventurous cooking apple soup, apple cheese and apple jelly amongst others.
Sadly UK apple growth has started to decline since World War 1 and 2. We have lost 65% of our orchards and most apples are imported from Australia and New Zealand. I think this is a real shame as our British apples are unique and the sight of apples growing is a lovely one. There is something exciting about picking your own apples and making an apple pie and it would be a shame if we lost that. It is great that English Heritage are keeping this tradition alive with events like the apple festival.
If you want to try more apple recipes why not try St. Stephens Pudding, a steamed pudding made with apples.