The Apple, The Primeval
By Carolyn Best
“Iduna keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of to become young again. It is in this manner that they will be kept in renovated youth until Ragnarök (the destruction of the gods).” This atavistic tale is recorded in the Prose Edda, the great Norse work of literature written in 13th century Iceland.
The geography of the ancient Greeks locates an idyllic garden in a far western corner of the world, at the edge of Oceanus, the encircling sea. It is the abode of the Daughters of Evening, the gleaming light of sunsets, the nymphs named the Hesperides. They guard the golden apples of the Tree of Life that grows at the centre of the garden. Herakles came here to pick the precious fruits and complete the 11th of his 12 labours. Eris, the goddess of discord, also stole into the forbidden garden, where she plucked the apple that led to the Judgement of Paris and the Trojan War. To the Norse, Greeks and of course Christians, many great matters begin with a little apple.
Apples first appeared in England after the Norman Conquest in 1066 CE and quickly became a staple of the national diet. In North America, where there were only crabapples before the arrival of the first European colonists, the indigenous peoples took to the unfamiliar fruit in the same way they took to the horse; the myriad apple trees they planted became a familiar sight around their trails and settlements. The apple was carried west in the covered wagons of 19th century homesteaders, who often planted their seedlings before breaking ground for their crops or erecting a shelter for themselves. The spread of apple trees resulted in positive changes to the topography and the wildlife of the continent. The need to fertilize their blossoms resulted in the importation of honey bees from Europe.
Henry David Thoreau, the famed author of Walden, praised the apple’s beneficial contribution to the natural world of the Americas. “When man migrates, he carries with him not only his birds, quadrupeds, insects, vegetables and his very sward, but his orchard also. Blossom week, like the Sabbath, is thus annually spreading over the prairies. Not only the Indian, but many indigenous. insects, birds and quadrupeds welcomed the apple tree to these shores. The bluebird, robin, cherry bird, king bird and many more came with haste and built their nests and warbled in its boughs, and so became orchard birds and multiplied more than ever. It was an era in the history of the [avian] race.”
Few fruits have been as deeply valued as apples throughout history, although today their delights have been diminished by the elimination of old stocks for varieties better suited to the supermarket shelf. In earlier times, when farms were small and their fruit mostly intended to cater to a single family, many different apple trees might be found in an orchard, from soft varieties which ripened early in the summer right through to “the winter keepers” – the hard and crisp apples of the last harvest. Farmers could eat their own apples every day of the year and it was a common practice to leave some in a bowl on the kitchen table, so that their sweet fragrance could permeate the dwelling. Such a contrast to the bland, intensively cultivated apples of today’s supermarkets, which have sacrificed their scent, vitality and taste to the demands of commerce. Fortunately, there are numerous individuals and organizations working to save the old varieties from extinction. In their own way, perhaps, they share the age-long dream of humankind to seek out that immortal tree of which the myths speak:
“… and pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.” (from “The Song of Wandering Aengus” by W. B. Yeats)
Carolyn Best is the former proprietor and chef of The Pantry vegetarian tearoom.
6 large red baking apples
½ cup black Thompson raisins
½ cup walnuts
1 tsp lemon rind 1 tsp cinnamon
6 tbsp maple syrup
Combine the raisins, walnuts, lemon rind and cinnamon. Core the apples and place them in a glass baking dish. Stuff each hollow core with the raisins and nuts (well packed). Pour a tablespoon of maple syrup into each core. Pour ¼ cup water into the baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for one hour.
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped apples
2 cups halved seedless grapes
1 cup currants
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. ground cardamom
pinch of cayenne
In a bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Stir together the mayonnaise, cardamom and cayenne and dress the celery and fruits.
Cranberry & Apricot Chutney
By Marisa Romano
For many among us, one of the best things about the beginning of winter – besides the first magical snowfall – is Christmas and the traditional culinary feast that comes with it.
With fresh cranberriesJust in time for that special event, Susan B shares her recipe for cranberry and apricot chutney. It’s an alternative to cranberry sauce that brightens the taste of the classic turkey roast (good also spooned over a baked brie round!). In this recipe, tart and tangy cranberries are sweetened with dry apricots, flavoured with lemon zest, spiced with cinnamon and “heated” with ginger. This sauce is full of smack and not too sweet. “I like it a bit tart,” says Susan B, “so I do not overdo the sugar.” As for many other types of chutney, its flavours blend over time and the sauce is best after a rest. It can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the fridge for up to three days. It can also be stored in the freezer for up to a month or spooned into sterilized jars and sealed while the chutney is still hot, then stored in a cool place. Thank you Susan B for sharing!
With fresh cranberries arriving at Canadian food stores from the United States at this time of year, it may be worth a try. If you opt for local produce, look for the ruby berries from Upper Canada Farm located just south of the airport – the only cranberry farm in eastern Ontario, by the way. A quick call to the farm store and the owner confirmed that I can find the farm’s frozen berries at Herb & Spice Food Shop on Bank Street.
Do you have a recipe or some kitchen advice that you would like to share with the community? Send it to the Glebe Report – readers will love you for it.
Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp allspice
½ cup sugar
2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
½ cup dried apricots, chopped
½ cup apricot nectar [water works too]
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the chopped onion and grated ginger. Cook, stirring frequently until the onion is translucent and soft.
2. Add sugar, cranberries, chopped apricots, nectar, allspice, the cinnamon stick, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper. Stir the mixture over medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the chutney for around 20 minutes until the cranberries pop and soften and the sauce thickens. Stir frequently.
3. When ready, remove it from the heat, cool and refrigerate the chutney until it is well chilled and has set.