Monday, October 18, 2010

Keeping the Doctor Away

I was honestly hesitant about studying abroad in the Fall for one rather silly reason: I didn’t want to miss the Fall season in Virginia.  Perhaps nothing makes me happier than signs on the road for pumpkin patches and corn mazes and that smell of crisp, clean air mixed with slightly moulding leaves.  Pure bliss comes from merely gazing at the vast mountains of golden yellow, burnt orange and burgundy.  But the one thing I can’t get enough of are apples, my favorite food of all, and the pies, butters, tarts, and so much more that come along with them.

But what I came to realize is that the people of England may just be more enthusiastic about apples that Americans.  I came here with this misconception that since I was in a city, there was no way I could get just-picked apples, but boy was I wrong.  Our study abroad group’s most recent trip through the countryside of England proved this to me.  Just outside the city, the land changes and my eyes were presented with nothing but fields upon fields of  rolling hills, with the brightest green grasses offset by cornflower blue skies.  And on a beautiful, cool day that felt so quintessentially Fall-like, I realized just how absolutely well equipped England is for the apple industry.

The varieties of UK apples, from cooking apples to the ones eaten raw and ripe from the tree, are countless.   That’s not to say that grocery stores don’t have their fair share of foreign kinds like granny smith and pink lady, but they also pride themselves in supplying those from the motherland.  But, to really get the best apples, I make the trek to Borough Market's Chegworth Valley Stall, an apple supplier whose orchards are located in the beautiful countryside of the Kent region.  The humble little stall is packed with crates of their fruits so imperfectly perfect in their rough-skinned, misshaped, bumpy, lumpy apple way.   When it comes to these fruits the ugly ducklings hold the swans inside and I can tell that they are not mass-produced, are organic, and actually grew wild on trees…imagine that!  The apples beg to be picked up and I can never help from running my fingers over their textured skins and holding them to my nose for an euphoric whiff of sweetness. And one bite of Chegworth’s gorgeous, plump, and firm Cox apples was enough to turn me into one of their loyal customers.

They also sell, freshly made apple juices, all pressed and packed at their orchard and I could help but pick up a few bottles.  The apple-elderflower juice was so full of flavor and I was not at all bothered by the little pieces of floating sediment, the proof of its freshness and unprocessed nature.  I could tell it was nothing but straight up apple and I could feel the energy being pumped into my body from this vitamin-rich drink.  And a bottle of their spiced apple cider sits in my fridge, waiting for a cold day so I can heat it on the hob and indulge in the feeling of Fall it brings.

But besides eating them raw, I’ve been taking advantage of the short but beautiful apples season with some awesome dishes.  For lunch, I simply cut them into a salad with a sprinkling of cranberries and walnuts and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  Or I go for the sweet and savory combination by grabbing some simple oatcakes and topping them with English Gammon ham, thinly sliced apples, and some good English cheddar cheese: light yet filling.  For dinner, of course, I made that unreal pork chop, topped with sautéed Chegworth Valley Cox apples.  And since my supply of cooking utensils here is severely limited, I tried out a really simple English Apple tarte tatin.  I used this recipe and just replaced the bananas with apples.  It turned out so tasty (although my caramel seized up a bit since I don’t have measuring spoons and got my proportions off) and definitely satiated my craving to bake, and desire for an apple dessert. 

And for any Londoners reading my blog who love a good English apple, make sure you stop by Borough Market this Sunday, the 24th, for Apple Day, a celebration of this amazing fruit.  There will be tones of apple suppliers, apple events and games, and artisans featuring their apple creations like preserves and, of course, apple pies, a dessert that, despite its American associations, actually originated in England. 

I was fascinated to learn that my favorite food has such a strong and popular role in English food culture and I must say, next year I’ll most likely be sad that I’m missing out of England’s Fall instead.

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