From the bourach at the end of my kitchen table, I’ve unearthed an article which was in The National on 22 April headed “Will Scottish apples plan take seed?” In it, Kirsteen Paterson writes about a project to re-introduce commercial apple growing and to promote local varieties of apples such as Lass O’Gowrie and Scotch Bridget.
I wish I could remember all the details of how the phrase “Curse Gowrie Apples” – used to express annoyance – became part of family speech. Someone from the croft was visiting a city and heard it being called out in the street; they wondered why just Gowrie apples were being cursed. It turned out to be the voice of a fruit-seller who was promoting apples from the Carse O’Gowrie but the misheard words came into family usage. I’m almost certain it was one of my mother’s stories.
Anyway, the point of that anecdote here is that Scottish apples were on sale within the last 100 years and Kirsteen Paterson opens her article by telling us that “Until around 80 years ago, most of the apples eaten by consumers in Scotland were grown right here.” There’s evidence of large scale apple-growing from the 12th century but 20th century trading practices brought about a decline; today up to 70% of UK apples are imported.
A Rural Innovation Support Service group, with help from the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, has started working to encourage farmers to diversify into apple-growing so that, once more, we can be eating home-grown varieties and cutting out airmiles in the process. It’s a woman from Megginch Castle Orchard in the Carse O’ Gowrie who started off the scheme: Catherine Drummond-Herdman has made an old orchard deer and rabbit-proof and has replanted “old local varieties”. She told the journalist that new growers have to be careful as “apple varieties are so site-specific that if someone plants a new orchard with the wrong variety it will simple fail”. I hope the scheme succeeds and that one day I’ll be lifting a Bloody Ploughman off the shelf in my local shop.
It wasn’t just monks or mansion owners who were growing apples in the past. In her book The Scottish Gardener, Suki Urquhart quotes from John Claudius Loudon, a farmer’s son from Cambuslang who became a landscape gardener in the early 19th century. He laid out standards for gardens in the same way that an Act of 1774 had set standards for buildings. His standards for a “labourer’s cottage garden” specified a well, a water-closet in a hidden part of the garden, a pigsty, a dunghill, a niche in the house wall for beehives, a hedge to include sloe or damson, with plum, pear, apple and cherry trees. Gooseberries and currants were also included along with herbs and vegetables “of the basic kind: mint, thyme, parsley, potatoes, peas, turnips and beans”. Pity the poor labourer keeping on top of that lot, as well as doing his long hours of work.
I remember our garden definitely having a gooseberry bush – and maybe some currants. Our crofting relatives all had gardens with fruit bushes, rhubarb etc. Now, it’s mainly available plastic-wrapped in the supermarket and bairns have little idea of seasonality. Are we just going to go on like we did before or is there any chance of returning to local produce where and when we can? Now, I’m well aware I’m writing as the person who, only last weekend, was bemoaning the fact that I could get neither tahini nor rosewater in my local food shops so maybe a mix of food sourcing would be the thing.
Lesley Riddoch was writing last week in praise of her local shop, the Wormit Spar, which is not only stocking more local produce such as fresh vegetables but is offering a free delivery service. She quotes Pete Ritchie from a food policy group called Nourish Scotland: ” … Not so long ago we’d assume a connection between local shops and local farms, now that needs to be rebuilt. The Scottish Government needs to make local food part of its green recovery – …”. (By the way, I’m swithering now between Lesley Riddoch and Stuart Cosgrove for Scotland’s first President – or maybe they could be Co-Presidents, like the Green Party leaders.)
There was also an interesting article on the Guardian website on 18 May, written by Sandra Laville, which was calling for the creation of “a more diverse, sustainable and fairer food supply chain” drawing on local and community responses to the current pandemic. Nine big companies already have 95.7% of the food retail market so farmers who had been supplying restaurants had nowhere to sell their food and couldn’t get it to folk who badly needed it.
Better get back to my subject:
I think I’ve mentioned my love for apple birchermuesli a couple of times before and here you can see my bi-weekly breakfast of jumbo oats, apple juice, grated apple and lemon juice. I no longer bother making it the night before but bring the apple juice to a boil in the morning, pour it over the oats, then cover and leave for no more than 5 minutes before adding the apple and the lemon juice. Because I then eat it straightaway, there’s really no need for the lemon juice but I add it still for old times’ sake – and for the vitamin C.
Catherine Brown in her Broths to Bannocks book has a recipe for Apple and Prune Brose which also needs no cooking. She adds milk or cream to oatmeal, leaves for a few minutes before grating an apple on top, then she mixes it in with some hazelnuts and prune juice. Finally, she puts a few prunes on top. In the baking section of the same book, she’s got a recipe for apple pancakes which I fancy making. I tried pancakes once and they were like leather but I think now is nearly the time to try again.
There’s an old remedy for when you’re feeling poorly which is to mix a baked apple with some boiling water, beat together, cool and strain. Then you drink the liquid.
Sarah Garland in her fabulous The Herb & Spice Book says that a “chopped or grated raw apple eaten before breakfast or last thing at night has a most beneficial effect on the intestine …” and she includes a recipe for apple and dandelion salad: apple, dandelion leaves, chopped fig, basil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
The list of supposed benefits from drinking apple cider vinegar is long: detoxifying organs and promoting their health, breaking down fatty deposits, oxidizing the blood and promoting digestion. It’s high in potassium so could help with sinus troubles and stop hardening of blood vessels. No doubt, the blood vessels of some of the medically-qualified among you will be fit to burst on reading this but taking apple cider vinegar has had its medical supporters such as Dr D C Jarvis from Vermont who published Folk Medicine in 1958. He advocated it to help with arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure and if you’re in the sceptical camp, you’ll be pleased to hear that in 1960, copies of his book were seized by the Food and Drug Administration! I’m taking a spoonful every morning in a glass of water with a wee tait of straight apple juice added to ameliorate the taste. Dr Jarvis’s prescription was for two spoons in a glass of water before breakfast each morning but I’m happy with half measures on this occasion. If it doesn’t do me any good, it won’t do me any harm.
From time to time over the years, I’ve taken my mother’s advice to add a spoonful of cider vinegar to a jug of cold water and use it as my final hair rinse to get a shine, though that’s the least of my worries these days. I said in a previous post – The Ancestors’ Voices (March 2018) – that she’d only passed on one beauty tip so that was wrong. (Incidentally, I laughed out loud at the pictures when the Leonardo di Caprio character in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood lifted his face from a bowl of ice water at the start of a scene.)
“But I am done with apple-picking now …”