INGREDIENT OF THE MONTH - Apples
Believed to have originated in the Middle East more than 4000 years ago, apples were one of the first fruits to be cultivated. They are often referred to in religion, folktales and Greek mythology, indeed, apples indirectly started the Trojan war when one was thrown into the wedding of Peleus and Thetis by Eris, the goddess of discord. They are also credited with the downfall of Adam and Eve in the Old Testament.
The apple tree is a member of the Rosaceae (rose) family, which includes strawberries, plums and apricots. They are one of the most widely cultivated fruits, with 7500 known cultivars worldwide. Desirable characteristics vary: in North America and Europe they prefer a balance between sweet and acidic, while in Asia they prefer extremely sweet, low acid varieties. Older cultivars are often less attractive than the modern versions, but are considered to have a better flavour.
Buying & storing
Unlike many other fruit and veg, don't necessarily seek perfect-looking specimens. The uniform and shiny apples you see in supermarkets are produced for their disease resistance and storage properties, but are tasteless. Look for the mottled and dull ones you see in farmers' markets, as they are grown with less or no pesticides and are full of flavour. A fragrant apple often indicates a delicious flavour. Apples will keep for up to a month – or even longer – if stored in a cool, dry place.
Though eating a crisp apple is incomparable, there are many ways to consume them, whether it’s in juices, baking or sauces. They cook well as they contain the perfect amount of juice. It's best to scrub or peel the fruit (due to wide-spread spraying of apple trees), then place in acidulated water to prevent discolouration. Great in tarts, pies and cakes and work well when roasted and served with rich meats such as pork. Sliced raw apple also pairs well with salty and creamy cheeses.
WHAT'S GOOD AT THE MOMENT?
Autumn's harvest is one of the highlights of the foodie calendar, so embrace it!
Though often ignored in favour of its more glamorous berry cousins, its flavour can surpass them with its balance of sweet and acidity. It also has the advantage of being free if you live in the country where wild blackberries grow voraciously along footpaths. Drop some berries into a bottle of gin and for a twist on sloe gin, and drink with ice and a squeeze of lemon to make a bramble cocktail. Cook down with sugar and lemon and make a jam, then stir through vanilla ice cream. Combine with apples and cover with pastry for the ultimate autumn pie, or give them the ultimate respect and eat with just a spoonful of clotted cream.
Squash is one of the most reliable vegetables during the autumn months. It's easy to to find in the shops, even easier to grow at home, and is sturdy enough to take all types of culinary abuse. It comes in 2 different types: a winter variety, that is large with a tough skin often used interchangeably with the pumpkin; and a summer variety that is smaller with an edible skin and is similar to the courgette. Try thinly sliced and deep-fried; combined with potato and mashed; roasted and used to stuff pasta - and in soups and pies. It loves warm, autumnal flavours and spices such as chilli, fennel, sage and cinnamon.