I got married on Apple Day – proof that the fruits are close to my heart. The English apple season is off to a wonderful flying start. This month brings mainly Cox and Braeburn, along with the first Conference pears.
Prime time for English-grown produce
The apples are a record-breaking fortnight or so early this year, due to the cold winter, scorching spring and wet summer. This is positive news for the industry, when combined with a steady upsurge of interest in English product: "It's [been] a real renaissance," states Adrian Barlow, chief executive of trade association English Apples and Pears.
On the Market, apples are just one of the highlights - it’s prime time for English-grown produce. Sweet corn, cobnuts, plums and damsons are all abundant, and a specialty of traders such as H G Walker. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries are the main soft fruit on offer.
For the veg, expect well-priced runner beans, salads of all sorts, peas, purple sprouting, potatoes, carrots, beetroot, broccoli and cauliflowers. "It's all English, pretty much," says Scott Kocurek at P & I Fruits. "Even the onions are brand new English."
If you still crave Continental delights, you will find quinces, peaches, pink onions, Petit Violet artichokes and more at French Garden. I couldn't resist a tray of their top-quality figs from Provence. The Italian importers, of course, have top-notch tomatoes and, for an oddity, some prickly pears.
During this trip, I met an old-hand for the first time – Alfie Lay of Lays of Chelsea. He works on the other side of the Market, supplying the chefs, and started on the barrows a little over twenty years ago.
"Chefs are funny people, under pressure all the time," he says, as we chat. "They work funny hours; we work funny hours."
He tells the story of storming into chef Simon Hopkinson's kitchen in Bibendum restaurant, after a particularly heated row, only to be greeted with a large chocolate cake - baked as a gesture of truce.
It’s one of the few foods, I reflect, that would sway me more than the first English apples.