'We have rather betrayed the apple. It's the most important fruit in our eating and cooking. It's the foundation fruit of our Western culture. It's the fruit of aphrodite and the Virgin, of earthly and heavenly love, and so on. What a pity, and what a betrayal, that commercial growers have now concentrated on [the] look [of apples] at the expense of flavour and texture and scent'.
— Jane Grigson, on Apple and Quince, Good Things 1971.
Jane Grigson made a valid point about apples in the paragraph I have quoted above, and it sprang to mind when Peter and I visited Jonathan and Robyn Banks at their orchard in Pialligo at the weekend.
Just as we arrive, Robyn calls out to Jonathan, 'We need more Jonnies, please'. Robyn was referring to Jonathan apples, an old fashioned variety which is renowned for its crisp, juicy flesh and tangy apple flavour. Sadly, Jonathans are no longer available in supermarkets. They are, however, one of the best sellers at Pialligo Apples, together with Cox's Orange Pippin, English Russet, Reine de Reinette and other heritage varieties.
Jonathan makes haste for the tractor, stopping first to fetch Jamie, the border collie, who clearly loves orchard adventures with his master. We follow the pair down a winding track to the ten acres of orchard, past rambllng blackberry canes and Bullace plum trees.
The orchard is an amazing place and we easily forget that we are on the outskirts of a major capital city. Jonathan is deft at picking and quickly fills a crate with Jonathan apples, then starts on the Golden Delicious. 'It's a bumper season this year, Liz', Jonathan tells me. 'We had such a bad season last year. Apples are a biennial fruit, that is, the trees produce lots of fruit one year and no fruit the next. That's the way of life in a natural orchard. Our trees run on low nutrition. We don't add fertiliser, the trees gather natural nutrition from the soil'.
There are some 60 varieties of apples, together with quince, persimmon, plums, pears and other fruit, grown at the orchard. 'We don't pick all of them every year', Jonathan explains. 'Our Galas have already sold out, but we we have Queen of the Snow coming on soon, it's a delicious Tasmanian apple'.
Peter, in his quest for great cider, asked Jonathan which apples make the best cider*. 'The best apples for cider are the ones you wouldn't eat, because of their high tannin content', Jonathan advised. 'You just missed out on the pressing of apples for juice!', Jonathan says. Peter and I immediately smile and nod, delighted at the thought of enjoying some freshly made apple juice.
Jonathan has owned Pialligo Apples since 1984. 'We knew the people who were here previously. The orchard was planted by the Southwells (one of the original Canberra families) in the 1950s and we still have mostly their original, old fashioned trees. We have added some varieties and have grafted over some', Jonathan tells me, all the while serving a steady stream of customers. 'We have people who come down from Sydney for the Cox's Orange Pippin. I love a good Cox', he says.
I remember that when first I interviewed Jonathan in the 1990s, he told me how he had visited the previous owners for afternoon tea and heard the place was for sale, so he decided to buy it! The property is an absolute gem, and Peter and I can understand why he and Robyn (and their dogs) love it so.
From the bountiful orchard, Jonathan and Robyn produce apple juice, honey, cider vinegar (matured in Bordeaux oak barrels) and a range of jams and jellies, including quince jelly (which Robyn says is lovely with lamb) and boysenberry and apple jam. There is also seville orange marmalade, which is made by Jonathan from fruit grown on a tree in Watson. And, perhaps our favourite, Mirabellensaft, which is wild mirabella plum syrup. Robyn and Jonathan advise this is lovely with champagne!
Visiting Jonathan and Robyn at Pialligo Apples is always a happy outing and we will be making the most of the season with regular visits. With our freshly picked apples at hand I felt inspired to bake a cake for Peter that I haven't made for at least a decade. Enjoy!
Tell me, what are your favourite apples for eating and for cooking? Do you visit an orchard nearby?
The stall at Pialligo Apples, 10 Beltana Road, Pialligo, is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 9am and 5pm from now until the middle of May.
BAVARIAN APPLE CAKE
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup self raising flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, well packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon or mixed spice
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
60g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup sultanas
2 apples, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, extra
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
icing or vanilla sugar, (for dusting)
Grease and flour (or line) a 20 cm round cake tin. Place all of the ingredients, except the icing sugar, into a large mixing bowl and mix with a heavy spatula until well combined. Beat with an electric mixer for approximately 3 minutes.
Spread mixture evenly into the prepared tin, sprinkle the extra walnuts and vanilla sugar over the top. Bake in a preheated moderate oven at 180 degrees C for 50 minutes, until the cake springs back lightly when touched, Allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack. When cold, dust generously with icing sugar. Store cake in an airtight container.
Note on cider: * Fellow blogger and friend, Erin, The Food Mentalist, runs a regular post titled Cider Sunday. Pop in!
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.