“Comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love”
No, not from a Shakespeare sonnet but, surprisingly, from the Bible (Song of Solomon 2:5, to be exact) – a book more filled with food and drink references than you’d think. It’s a very evocative phrase, and one of great beauty – so much so that American food writer Ruth Reichl used it as the title of her second book of food memories and stories. But what is is about apples that screams comfort? Why do so few of us turn to grapes, or mango or apricots for comfort? Given that the apple is often portrayed as the fruit that started all the trouble in the garden of Eden, it seems surprising that it is our favourite comfort fruit.
Maybe it is a childhood memory of being fed grated apple to settle an unhappy tummy. Apples are wonderful fruits, containing pectin in their skin, and so nibbling on grated apple is a wonderful natural way to recover from a tummy bug (stewed apple is even better). Or maybe it is the memory of the scent of grandma’s apple pie, cooling on a windowsill like an irresistible temptation. For some, it is the happy memory of a visit to the fairground and eating sticky, sweet toffee apples. Or maybe it’s just the magical alchemy that can turn a tart green apple into a gooey, cinnamon-scented dessert that draws us all to the comfort of apples.
I grew up eating South African apples and I have never stopped, despite my move to the UK. I know there is always a heated debate about the impact of buying imported fruit, but South African fruit is obviously close to my heart – and there are some good reasons to buy them here in the UK:
- Because it is in the Southern hemisphere, South Africa’s apples are in season from February to October – which is the period when there are no locally-grown apples harvested in the UK or Europe. This means that rather than competing with UK apples, South African apples merely tide us over between UK apple-harvesting seasons.
- Over 99% of South African fruit is shipped, rather than flown, to the UK, which drastically lessens the negative environmental impact.
- Over 600,000 people employed in farming in South Africa, and the salary of each worker in the fruit industry supports approximately 4 dependents.
- Every hectare of fruit planted in South Africa creates 1 full-time job, so by supporting the South African fruit industry, you are effectively assisting with job creation which is so badly needed in South Africa with its staggering unemployment rate.
- Most hearteningly, the industry is actively working to promote growers who did not previously have the opportunity or the knowledge to farm fruit on a large scale. Previously disadvantaged growers now supply approximately 12% of South Africa’s exported fruit – which does not sound like much yet but it is up from 0% only a decade ago! So things are moving in the right direction.
South African apples (and pears) are available in all major UK supermarkets from October to February – look out for varieties such as Granny Smith (green, crisp, tart), Royal Gala (dappled red and green, crisp, sweet), and Pink Lady (sweet, beautiful red-on-yellow blush). I was recently sent a basket of them to sample and, together with the lovely Packham’s pears, I have to admit that I mostly feasted on them just as they were. But I still had the last of the Royal Gala and Pink Ladies left when my thoughts turned inexplicably to one of my mom’s signature dishes: sausages with apple rings. I adored this as a child – just a simple dish of pork sausages fried in a pan together with some apple slices and served on mashed potato, and I liked it best when my mom saved the deeper coloured more caramelised apples rings for me. Instead of pork sausages, I paired my apple rings with pork chops instead, oven-baked with a crispy wholegrain mustard crust. The combination remains a winner, with the added zing of the mustard, and the fact that the chops are baked makes this a lot healthier than fried crumbed pork chops. I served mine with roasted carrots, but this could just as happily go with creamy leek mash. Whatever your apple memories are, this simple dish will satisfy your cravings for comfort.
If you love the combination of sweet apples and savoury dishes, you might also like:
- Michelle’s pork fillets with apple & Calvados
- Helen’s Stilton fondue with apples and pears
- Katie’s sausage & apple toad-in-the-hole
- Margot’s baked chicken with apple and sun-dried tomato
- Elizabeth’s chicken with apples
- Kavey’s higgledy pork and apple Stroganoff pie
- Nazima’s Cheddar & apple scones
- Jacqui’s avocado, apple & hazelnut salad
- Camilla’s apple & pear cider spelt soda bread
- 2 nice thick (2cm at least) pork chops, bone in
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 30g butter, melted
- pinch of kosher salt
- handful of very finely chopped parsley leaves (optional)
- 2-3 apples (I used Pink Lady and Royal Gala)
- 15g butter
- 1 tsp soft brown sugar
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- Make breadcrumbs out of the bread, using a food processor; then in a small bowl mix the breadcrumbs, 1 Tbsp of mustard, butter, salt (and parsley, if using) to form a paste.
- Place the pork chops in an oven-proof dish and spread each chop with 1 tsp of mustard. Divide the mustard breadcrumb paste in half and spread half evenly onto each pork chop, pressing it down to make it stick and form a crust. Place the pork chops uncovered on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for approximately 40 minutes (depending on thickness).
- While the chops cook, make the apple rings. Core the apples and slice each into 0.5cm thick slices. Heat the butter and sugar in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat, swirling to mix them as the butter melts. Place the apple rings in a single layer in the pan and allow to cook undisturbed until golden brown and slightly caramelised at the bottom; then turnover and repeat on the other side. Remove from the pan and keep warm when done. You may have to repeat this process to get all the apple rings done - refresh the pan with a little extra butter and sugar after each batch.
- When the chops are cooked through (a skewer poked into the middle should yield no blood), turn on the grill and grill for 5 minutes or so - but watch them so that they do not burn. Serve immediately with the apple rings and vegetable of your choice.
DISCLOSURE: I received the apples as a free sample but was not remunerated or required to write about them and all opinions are my own.