Apples have been grown in Ireland for at least 3,000 years. Indeed, St. Patrick is said to have planted a number of apple trees in Ireland, including one at Ceangoba, a settlement close to where Armagh is now situated. Early monastic records tell us that the monks were given apples with their meals, especially at festival times. The Brehon laws (originating between 2,000 and 1,000 BC) stipulated that anyone cutting down an apple tree would be subject to a severe penalty; namely a fine of five cows, and even removing a limb or branch would warrant a fine of some sort.
Nowadays the oldest apple variety widely planted in Ireland is the Bramley’s Seedling, or Bramley for short. This is the apple that we all use (or should use) for cooking. The Bramley apple story started in 1809 when a young girl called Mary Ann Brailsford from Southwell, Nottinghamshire planted a pip from an apple in the kitchen into a pot. The seed grew into a seedling that was planted into their cottage garden. In 1846 the cottage was bought by Mathew Bramley, a local butcher and innkeeper. The fine cooking apples which the tree produced came to the attention of Henry Merryweather, a young local nurseryman who was given permission to propagate seedlings from the tree on the condition that he named it after its owner.
The original tree was planted 200 years ago, and is still alive and well. This apple was first cultivated widely in Ireland in the late 1880’s, and has become more and more popular in the intervening years. Some trees dating from around that time still stand in commercial orchards in Ireland today, and if you are eating a Bramley pie anytime soon, it is quite possible that the apple has come from a tree in excess of 100 years old.
The reasons that Bramley’s became so popular are manifold. From the viewpoint of the gardener, Bramley is an easy apple to grow, is disease and pest tolerant, producing a good crop of apples almost every year, without attracting too many birds or wasps, as the fruit is sharp-tasting. From the cook’s perspective, this sharpness or acidity is also a great quality. When cooked, the natural fruit acids help break down the apple into a delicious fluffy texture. The acidity also balances the sweetness of the pastry and any sugar that is added, meaning that the flavour is never over-sweet. Add to this the large size of the apple which makes peeling easy, and you can see why this apple became so popular in the kitchen. Lastly, from the standpoint of the modern grower, Bramley’s are good hard apples that can be kept in refrigerated cold-stores, meaning that they can be sold for a long period.
About 1/3 of the world’s supply of Bramley’s is grown in Ireland, and it is the only apple nowadays available for the sole purpose of cooking. It has certainly come a long way in 200 years, so why not raise a glass (of cider), accompanied by a delicious treat made with Bramley’s, to another 200 years.
|1 large Bramley apple (153g)||54||0.2||13.6||2.4g||21mg|
|% of GDA||3%||0.30%||15%||10%||35% of RDA|
As the leaves change colour and fall off the trees, we all look for our share of comfort food to ease us into Winter. And nothing compares to a spicy Bramley apple crumble.
Ever since Adam bit into the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, apples have been the stuff of myth and legend. The Ancient Greeks and Romans believed them to be aphrodisiacs and as for us Celts, crab apples were a symbol of fertility.
For many, today’s myth is that the Bramley’s role is in the dessert arena only, or on rare occasions to accompany a pork dish at dinner.
But the potential of these large flattish green cooking apples, sometimes faintly flushed with red, to cook into a frothy puree, makes them one of the most versatile low fat sauces possible. To stew apples, you chop them and then cook them in a small amount of water, and season as preferred with cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon. Really it’s that simple and so worth that sweet aroma wafting around the kitchen hours later.
Stewed apple combines well with other fruits like blackberries, lemon and dried fruits such as raisins or cranberries. Children love these naturally sweetened versions. If you’re clever enough to stew a bag of Bramleys on a quiet Sunday afternoon, you can find umpteen different ways to use them during the week.
Baking Bramley apples with cinnamon and raisins in the microwave or oven makes a quick dessert. Added flavours that go well include honey, citrus fruits, nutmeg, reduced-fat crème fraiche or low fat custard.
For a savoury option, the sharp taste of Bramley apples makes an excellent accompaniment for game birds and rich meats like duck, pork and goose. They also go well with red cabbage or even diced into curries. Parsnip and Bramley apple soup is just delicious.
And recent research suggests that the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” is indeed fact, not folklore. The nutritional highlights of apples including fibre, flavonoids and phytochemicals translate into apples’ ability to keep us fighting fit. Apples contain a wide variety of phytochemicals, including quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid, many of which have been found to have strong antioxidant activity and anticancer activity. Apples have been singled out as one of the small number of fruits and vegetables that contributes to a significant reduction in the risk of heart disease.