Fruit and Veg

A chef's guide to English apples and pears

Written by Tom Moggach
August 20, 2018

"Quality is beautiful - with an intense flavour." That's the verdict on 2018's crop.

Sarah Culcutt runs English Apples and Pears, which represents our growers: "We have really tasty apples this year but it's hard work growing fruit in hot weather." 

These are interesting times for the industry, which predicts a harvest of 220,000 tonnes of apples. On the one hand, advances in the technology of controlled atmosphere storage means consumers can purchase British apples and pears for the bulk of the year. (Tesco stocked English apples for the entire twelve months of 2016) 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Farm

On the other hand, Brexit injects an element of uncertainty into the business. The drop in the value of Sterling has made foreign imports of apples more expensive. The possibility of tariffs on food products may also help or hinder our growers. 

What's certain is that the quality of English apples and pears is second to none. The fruit is ideally suited to growing in the temperate UK climate. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Fruit On Tree

Pear growers face distinct challenges. For a start, pear trees take longer to mature so are a more expensive investment for growers. 

There is also a problem around the eating experience. Unlike apples, pears often benefit from a few extra days of ripening before they are at their best. "If you buy four – two in the fridge, two in the fruit bowl," advises Culcutt. There is a need for more public awareness to boost pear consumption.

Key facts

> English apples and pears are renowned for their quality. The temperate climate is ideal for growing the fruit, allowing them to ripen slowly and develop complex flavours.

> Main commercial apple varieties are harvested in the following sequence: Discovery, Early Windsor, Worcester, Spartan, Egremont Russet, Cox, Gala and Braeburn. The main pear varieties are Conference and Comice. 

> There are several thousand apple varieties from the species Malus domestica. These originated from wild apples growing in central Asia. You will find more information on their origins here

> Growers are always trialling new varieties. For pears, a promising new variety is Migo. Apple growers are excited about several dual-purpose varieties from New Zealand, such as Envy.

Brogdale in Kent is home to the national fruit collection, which includes 2200 varieties of apple and 550 varieties of pear. They host a Pear Day on the 16th September and Apple Festival on the 13th and 14th October this year. 

Growing and harvesting

"We've got a good crop," says Mark Eastwood, who grows apples and plums on 40 hectares in Kent. I first visited him back in 2016. (You can also read our profile of top grower Newmafruit). 

The heatwave in June and July this year posed challenges for growers. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Mark Eastwood

Sunlight can burn the skin of certain apple varieties. Trees can shut down from stress induced by drought.

Eastwood says: "A very hot dry summer can have an effect on next year because the trees use all their energy on the crop with nothing to spare for the fruit buds. The nutrient content of the fruit can be low in certain things, such as calcium, so might not store very well." 

However Eastwood has installed drip irrigation on his farm which prevented any damage and prospects for the harvest remain very rosy. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Mark Eastwood Tractor

Apples that are not sold directly are stored in CA (Controlled Atmosphere) fridges, with reduced levels of oxygen. Eastwood is careful to pick at just the right time to give him maximum flexibility in terms of how long he can potentially store the crop for sale. 

The industry is researching the physiology of each apple variety, so that growers know precisely at which point they should pick the maturing fruit in order to guarantee successful storage before marketing the product in a certain month.

For the Gala variety, for example, the old advice was to never store beyond the end of January. Now small volumes are released in May or even June.

Growing techniques are also evolving. For pears, growers are using grafted trees with four stems of fruiting wood. These are planted at an angle along trellis systems at 0.8m intervals to maximise space efficiency and yield. "It looks like a wall of fruit - beautiful," says Culcutt.  

On the Market

You'll find English apples and pears sold by a range of wholesalers including H G Walker, S NewmanP & I Fruits and Premier Fruits.  

Kitchen inspiration

For a quick blast of inspiration, try these links. The 10 Best Apple Recipes includes an apple and kohl rabi gratin, steamed apple pudding, and spiced apple chips. Our 10 Best Pear Recipes includes a tempting dish of pulled pork shoulder with roasted pear gravy.

Delicious Magazine has also compiled a collection of apple and pear recipes. Highlights include a dish of chicken with apples, leeks and cider and a spiced apple and ginger cocktail.

Bramleys, of course, are the most common apple variety used for cooking. The key characteristic of a cooking apple is that they do not turn to mush when heated. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Bramley

Orange Pippin, a specialist apple tree nursery, states: "The best cooking apples have a sharp "sub-acid" flavour, which mellows during cooking and lends a richer texture and flavour to pies, tarts, and crumbles. Many of these varieties are also good for juicing, as they give a good acidic backbone which can then be sweetened with the addition of other varieties."

In the picture below, baker Julie Jones has styled an apple and gooseberry tart. 

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Julie Jones 2

This is another bake from Vivre La Patisserie:

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Vivre La Patisserie

Over in Kent, Becks Bakes makes these pastry apple roses:

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Becks Bakes

Dehydrators are increasingly common in professional kitchens, as demonstrated by chef Tara Tripoli Quintana.

Fruit And Vegetable Market Chefs Guide To Apples And Pears Tara Tripoli Quintana

Apples and pears are the best of British fruit - so celebrate the season in style on your menus. 

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