Food & Drink: A natural appeal can bear fruit: The big variety show, Apple Day, takes place next Thursday. It's a celebration for both cookers and eaters

Back in 1990, I went to the first Apple Day celebration in Covent Garden, London. What a triumph for the British apple and for Common Ground, the charity that set it all up. Growers from all round the country were there, offering a chance to taste the rarer varieties. I sampled with gusto, thrilled by those semi-forgotten names - Peasgood Nonsuch, Ribston Pippin, Tydeman's Late Orange, Gascoyne's Scarlet. I came home laden with bags of apples and decided, after much deliberation, that my favourite that year was the Kidd's Orange Red.

Now Apple Day, on 21 October, has become an established event, with fairs and tastings taking place countrywide (for details see Gardening, page 35). And just in the nick of time: many of our once-cherished varieties (more than 6,000 have been recorded in the British Isles) had proved insufficiently high yielding for big business and we were on the verge of losing them.

Apples fall broadly into two types, eating (or 'dessert', if you must) and cooking (or culinary). The latter is a misleading nomenclature as both take well to cooking, though they react in different ways. Eating apples are the ones to choose if you want to preserve whole chunks of fruit, while acidic cookers collapse quickly and efficiently to a light puree. The cooking apple scene has been so overwhelmed by Bramleys that you might well imagine no others exist.

You would be wrong. Small quantities of equally good cookers, such as early season Grenadier, or mid- to late-season Newton Wonders and Monarchs, are occasionally brought on to the market. Buy when you see them. For pies, crumbles and baked puddings, any type of apple can be used as long as you make allowance for differing degrees of sweetness. The same goes for baked apples and apple sauce, though eaters may take a little longer to cook through and will require a bit more effort to puree.

Chicken & apple croquettes

This is based on an Italian recipe I came across some years ago. Chicken is not often partnered with apples, but they set each other off admirably. If your butcher will not mince the chicken, either chop it finely or process in short bursts, stopping before it turns into a paste.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 2 tart eating apples

1tbs lemon juice

1lb (450g) boned and skinned

chicken meat, minced

1tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon

1tsp finely chopped fresh parsley

1 egg

1/2 oz (15g) butter

1tbs oil

flour

1oz (30g) sugar

3fl oz (85ml) red wine

salt and pepper

Preparation: Peel and core the apples, then grate coarsely. Mix quickly with the lemon juice. Add the chicken, herbs, egg, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands to form a soft, cohesive mixture. Divide into eight and mould into rugby-ball shapes. Mix the sugar with the wine, stirring until dissolved. Coat the croquettes in flour. Heat the butter and oil until foaming in a large frying pan. Fry the croquettes at a fair pace until golden brown all over. Pour over the sweetened wine. Cover, and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, or until cooked through to the centre, turning croquettes every few minutes.

Apple mayonnaise

This Scandinavian sauce is marvellous with cold roast pork, gammon, ham or other cold meats. It makes a good standby at Christmas as it will keep for three to four days in the fridge.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients: 1lb (450g) cooking apples

finely grated zest and juice 1 orange

4tsp ground allspice

2 cloves

1-2tbs caster sugar

1/2 pint (290ml) mayonnaise

Preparation: Cut the apples up roughly, but do not bother to peel or core them. Put into a pan with the orange zest, juice and spices. Cover and cook over a low heat until juices begin to run. Raise heat and cook until apples have collapsed to a thick puree. Sieve. Taste and sweeten as needed - the final puree should err marginally on the tart side. Cool. Fold the apple puree into the mayonnaise. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Apples with meat

Apple sauce with pork is a standard partnership, but eating apples can also be used to set off the richness of meats like pork or duck, or the earthiness of feathered roast game. To accompany sausages, pork chops or duck, serve wedges or rings of eating apple, fried quickly in half-butter, half-oil. Or bake eating apples around a roasting game bird - core but leave peel in place, scoring through the skin around the midriff to allow for expansion. Push a teaspoon or so of butter, plus salt and pepper, in the cavity of each one and allow about 20-30 minutes depending on size.

Eliza Acton's baked apple custard

This rich, delicate custard, moistened with melted butter rather than milk or cream, comes from Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families, published in 1845, which contains a fair number of elegant apple puddings. It is wickedly good just as it is, but could also be used as a filling for a tart.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 1lb (450g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, roughly cut up

5oz (140g) caster sugar

2tbs muscatel wine or sweet sherry

3oz (85g) unsalted butter

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

5 egg yolks

2tsp flour, sifted

Preparation: Put apples, sugar and wine into a pan. Cover and stew over a gentle heat until apples have dissolved to a puree, stirring occasionally. Draw off the heat and beat in the butter a little at a time, to give a fairly smooth puree. Beat in the lemon zest and juice. Whisk the egg yolks lightly with the flour and beat into the custard. Pour into a shallow baking dish, stand in a tray of hot water and bake at 170C/325F/gas 3 for 30-40 minutes until almost but not quite firm at the centre. Serve warm or cold, with cream.

Eliza Acton's pommes au beurre

Eliza Acton again and more butter, though I have cut down the original quantity fairly ruthlessly. The final dish is nothing like the preceding one. The apples are cooked and served whole, deliciously sweet and buttery, scented with cinnamon and apricot jam.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 6 good eating apples

3oz (85g) butter

4oz (110g) caster sugar

1tsp cinnamon

4tbs apricot jam

Preparation: Peel and core the apples. Take 1oz (30g) of the butter and divide between the cavities. Place apples in a saucepan just large enough to take them snugly, and dot the remaining butter over and around them. Set the pan over a very low heat and warm until the butter begins to melt.

Cover and stew gently, carefully turning apples about every 10 minutes so they cook evenly, until they are nearly cooked through (roughly 30 minutes, but this depends on the size of the apples). Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the apples. Continue cooking, turning apples once, for a further 5 minutes. In a separate small pan, warm the apricot jam until runny. Gently lift the apples into a serving dish, and pour a little jam into each one. Pour the buttery cooking syrup around the apples and serve.

(Photograph omitted)

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