(Some of the information on this page appeared in an article by Helen Peacock in an article for the Oxford Times, Oct. 06)
It's been an excellent year for apples. Both quality and quantity are up. We should all be eating English apples, and cooking with them too. But this isn't happening. The UK apple market is worth about £320M. Only a third of the eating apples sold in the UK are home grown.
£78M is spent on Bramleys for cooking. 78% of shoppers appear to know that the Bramley is English. 60% believe that the same is true of the Australian apple, Granny Smith. (though this apple is believed to have come from the seedling of a French Crab, so perhaps it's academic).
A 1381 recipe - for apple tart - calls for good apples, good spices, figs, raisins and pears. Saffron was also used to colour the pie filling. There was no sweetener in the recipe, not even honey which was widely available. Perhaps our ancestors were more used to sour tastes than us.
The apples they used would probably have been crab apples (Malus sylvestris). Now we use Bramleys, named after Matthew Bramley, who purchased a cottage near Nottingham with an apple tree in the garden in 1846. The tree had grown from a pip planted by the previous occupant. Grafts from the tree were given to a local nurseryman, Henry Merryweather, on condition that he named the apple "Bramley". Now Bramleys are the most popular cooking apple in the world.
Bramleys contain more acid, less sugar and more vitamin C than most other apples, which is why they have such a superb sharp taste. (though you'll only benefit from the vitamin C if you eat them raw - it's lost on cooking). But it's their ability to fluff up when cooking, as well as their superb taste, which makes them so popular.
Bramleys are also an ingredient of many commercial ciders. They supply both acid and flavour. At Upton, near Didcot, cider maker Robert Fitchett and his wife make very fine cider - they've won awards for it. They use a mix of 80% cider apples and 20% Bramleys, and the orchard covers 16 acres.
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