Wondering what apples top chefs use? Raymond Blanc’s new book The Lost Orchard details which of the cultivars he loves best from his own orchard at Belmond Le Manoir.
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21 trees in my English orchard
ORIGIN Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, 1962
APPEARANCE Deep red
BEST FOR Eating fresh, juice and tarts
TASTING AND COOKING NOTES Raw, this is an exciting apple: juicy, crunchy, with a tight flesh and fabulous flavours, and it made
a delicious single-cultivar juice with a gentle and well-balanced sweetness and a big apple flavour. Baked whole it had an excellent texture and flavour, and in a tarte tatin the aromatics were seductive and layered, but the texture did not hold so well and there was not enough acidity to combat the caramel. No apple rated as highly in our tastings for the tarte Maman Blanc test. The tart looked glorious, fluffy and golden, and the acidity of the apple carried the sweetness and flavours with wonderful aromatics including a faint scent of rose petal.
GROWING NOTES Has beautiful crimson blossom, is resistant to mildew and scab but can be prone to apple canker. It is a triploid cultivar. Harvested in mid-October, the apples can keep well through to January.
52 trees in my English orchard
ORIGIN Cambridge, around 1920
SEASON Mid-late October
APPEARANCE Slightly flattened, golden with orange-red flush
BEST FOR Eating fresh, juice, baking whole and tarte tatin
TASTING AND COOKING NOTES Mostly classified as a ‘good eating apple’ but this pigeon-holing is a crying shame because I found it to have so many more exceptional and surprising qualities. Straight from the tree it is a joy: honeyed, yet refreshingly juicy, crisp, aromatic and delicately sweet; and it makes a delicious juice. Baked whole, it was a star: no collapsing here, the apple stood proud without a blister, firm but melting. It made a divine tarte tatin – somehow the wonderful honey flavours and perfume did not make the tart too sweet.
GROWING NOTES Easy to grow in the garden and resistant to many pests, althoughprone to canker, the ‘Chivers Delight’ will do best in a sunny spotand autumn sunshine will produce the best fruit, as the apples ripen quite late in the season. If the apples are kept cool they can be stored until around January time.
48 trees in my English orchard
ORIGIN Devon, 1678
APPEARANCE Deep crimson with occasional red flecks in the flesh
BEST FOR Eating fresh, purée, tarts and tarte tatin
TASTING AND COOKING NOTES Now rarely seen, so its praises need to be sung. Juicy, with a great crunch and a surprising hint of strawberry, this is simply a delicious apple when eaten raw. It also made excellent juice and a very lovely purée, but was clearly not appropriate for baking whole, as the flesh remained too firm. Most remarkably, this old apple could have been made for the tarte Maman Blanc. The fluffy slices kept their distinctive character with a lovely balance of acidity and sweetness. And, what is even more exceptional, this apple also performed brilliantly in a tarte tatin – a feat that very few apples that make a good purée can achieve.
GROWING NOTES The trees are a triploid cultivar [needs another apple to fertilise it], but crop well and are known to tolerate quite windy, wet locations (though some old-time gardeners recommend a sheltered location with light soils for best results).
110 trees in my English orchard
ORIGIN Somerset, 1872
SEASON Late September/October
APPEARANCE Yellowy-gold to orangey-brown russet
BEST FOR Juice
TASTING AND COOKING NOTES When an apple makes an extraordinary juice it can often mean that it doesn’t like to be puréed – and sadly this was the case with ‘Egremont Russet’. It baked whole quite well, but the flesh was rather meaty and dry. In a tarte Maman Blanc it had some good, layered perfume and richness, although that meatiness remained, so the apple slices were lacking in moisture. This was also a factor in the tarte tatin. Nevertheless, I love this apple and it has found its true place at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons as the base of our own apple juice.
GROWING NOTES A good, small tree for a garden. It crops well, especially against a wall, where it can also be trained as an espalier, as it will do best in a sunny spot. It is late-flowering, so can avoid the frost. The fruit is resistant to scab, though the foliage can be affected, and it is vulnerable to woolly aphid. Late-picked apples will store through to December.
26 trees in my English orchard
ORIGIN Bedfordshire, 1907
SEASON Mid September
APPEARANCE Bright red flush and streaks over gold
BEST FOR Tarts, eating fresh, juice
TASTING AND COOKING NOTES Eaten from the tree, ‘Lord Lambourne’ is top tier. Crisp to the bite and with thin skin and juicy flesh, a big, layered, well-balanced flavour, with a little sugar present. Its juice was fabulous, and although it didn’t excel as a purée, baked whole or in a tarte tatin, it delighted us with one of the two best tarte Maman Blanc experiences of all the 112 apples tested. It was surpassed only by the tiniest of margins by the ultimate champion of the tarts: ‘Captain Kidd’.
GROWING NOTES This is a good cultivar to grow in a garden, as the trees are quite compact, of medium vigour, and should give a good, regular, crop of apples. Also the cultivar is now largely disease-free. The trees are partial tip-bearers [fruit produced at the tips of branches] so it is best not to prune them heavily. Apples picked in mid-to-late September can be stored until November.
17 trees in my English orchard
ORIGIN Worcestershire, 1985
SEASON Late September
APPEARANCE Deep scarlet
BEST FOR Everything
TASTING AND COOKING NOTES This is such a wonderful apple so I have to ask, why can we not find it in shops and supermarkets? At its peak of ripeness it had all the qualities of a great apple: crisp and juicy with a big injection of rich, layered flavours, acidity and a delicate perfume. It made a lovely juice and it puréed well and quickly. Whole, it baked wonderfully well, although as it’s a small – but perfectly formed – apple, you might need two. When it came to the tarte Maman Blanc, the apple was simply exquisite, and incredibly it made one of the best tarte tatins of all the cultivars we tested.
GROWING NOTES Has the advantage of being self fertile, disease free, and the blossoms have some resistance to frost. The cultivar is also a compact grower. The apples stay on the tree when ripe and so don’t have to be picked at once, but when harvested in mid-to-late September the fruit can be stored until December.
The above is an extract from Raymond Blanc’s The Lost Orchard: A French Chef Rediscovers a Great British Food Heritage, which is published by Headline on 14 November, priced £20