Apples for pie
Most of these shiny red beauties are winesaps. They are one of the 170 different heritage varieties of apple grown by Borrie Gartrell at Borrodell on the slopes of Mount Canobolas, just outside Orange. The winesaps are some of the last fruit hanging on the trees on the Anzac Day weekend, and Borrie picked them for our gang of Ross Garden travellers on the Tastings: Orange tour.
The sun was shining on the terrace outside the cellar door. Our lunch tables were decorated with fragrant golden quinces, and beneath us vineyards of gold-leafed sauvignon blanc, red-tinted pinot and cherry orchards still deciding on their autumn dressups glinted in the sunlight.
Borrie is a great story teller, and while we tucked into lunch he told us apple stories:
The US government proclaimed that land opened up by pioneers in the north-east could be claimed as long as the settler planted and nurtured at least half a dozen apples. A man called John Chapman saw this as a fine business opportunity. To say that Chapman was eccentric is to severely understate the case. He never worse shoes, favoured a hessian sack as clothing, and wore a jam tin as a hat, the lid forming a brim to keep the sun off. And when the sun went down the hat served as ablutions basin. As he wandered the frontier country, Chapman sowed apple seed, and employed people to nurse the seedling apples, which he then sold to new settlers to help them keep their land. Because apples don’t grow true to seed but sport all kinds of genetic variation, the range of apples grown through the newly settled country was vast. Most were terrible, but the incredible variation threw up plenty of winners, like the winesap. The settlers used the good apples for food and the bad ones for hog feed and – even better – for making applejack.
So when the temperance movement gained strength, the apple was in its sites. Grub out those apples, and the demon drink would go as well was the (dodgy) theory. Nurserymen banded together and produced what Borrie reckons was the world’s first public relations campaign. ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ was their memorable slogan and to go with it, they turned John Chapman, into Johnny Appleseed, a Disneyesque character who scattered the byways of the US with apples.
Great story! We packed our winesaps and knowledge of American apple history away for later and turned our focus to pie and the mighty old English Bramley. This apple grew from pips planted by a young girl, Mary Ann Brailsford, in her Nottinghamshire garden in 1809. The fruit that grew on the tree was huge, green and mouth-puckeringly sour – perfect for cooking. The tree developed a local reputation and a nurseryman convinced the next owner of the property to allow him to take cuttings. The owner agreed, as long as the apple would bear his name. Mary Ann’s original tree is still alive, and still bearing fruit! And its descendants are still considered the best apples for cooking.
And it’s true. This was the best apple pie I’ve ever eaten. Tart fluffy apples, crisp-topped, buttery pastry, totally delicious. The secret is those Bramleys which you won’t be able to find now, so try the recipe with grannys rolled in a little lemon juice to add a bit more bite. Let us know how you go!
Borrodell apple pie
80g sour cream
1kg bramley apples, peeled and diced
Mix flour and butter together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and mix to form dough. Rest for 30 minutes. Divide in two and roll out, using one half to line a pie tin, and reserving the other half for a lid.
Cook the apples with the sugar and vanilla. Allow to cool, then fill the tart case, and cover with reserved lid. Brush the top with egg and let the pie rest for 30 minutes while the oven heats to 190 C.
Bake at 190 C for 10 minutes, then at 160 C for 30 minutes.
Photos by Robin Powell
Robin Powell is a food and garden writer and a tour leader for Ross Garden Tours. Go to her blog for more ideas with this season’s apples.