DAVID SAINT: Remarkable tradition of rare Northamptonshire fruit
I see that our local celebrity cleric is soon to become a celebrity chef, although he admits he's no Escoffier!
The Reverend Richard Coles is to be in the next series of the BBC hit cooking show and he has hinted that he will be using produce from his parish, Finedon Dried Apples.
The trouble is, it might be hard to find any nowadays, but at the time of Waterloo they were a great delicacy and much in demand.
Indeed, in the same year as the great battle, the Northampton Mercury carried the following advertisement placed by one of the biggest suppliers of the product: “J Abel begs leave to inform the public that they may be supplied with Genuine Finedon Dried Apples as usual, of the finest quality, by him in boxes at 20 shillings each from the person who prepares them at Finedon.”
The advert also mentions that pianofortes and other musical instruments were available from Mr Abel.
The company went on, of course, to be the town’s famous music shop at 9, The Parade where, perhaps like me, you bought so many gramophone records until the shop closed down in 1970.
In years gone by there was a huge business built around Finedon Dried Apples.
They were famous long before Waterloo; in 1770 they were being advertised in the Northampton Mercury.
Thomas Smith, Cider maker was also producing “dry’d apples”.
Others included William Butlin, Eli Eady, William McAllister, William Sharp and Berry Chapman, and it was Berry who in 1883 produced the very last batch of apples that was made and sold and that was the end of a remarkable tradition.
But how were they produced?
Whole apples were arranged on large trays and put in the baker’s oven after the bread was removed each day.
They were left in to start the drying process and when they were taken out they were very carefully pressed between the thumb and fingers, ensuring the skins were not broken.
They were then cooled.
This was done every day for up to ten days until the apples were reduced to about half an inch in thickness.
They couldn’t use any old apples, they had to have thick skins and so varieties like Meltons, Beaufins or Norfolk Pippins were the most favoured.
The apples would keep for months and when they were required they could be reconstituted by soaking them in water.
If Richard can survive the slow and tedious process of producing the dried apples he’d better start now.
But of course we have another local product that he could quite easily incorporate into his cuisine.
Just think of what divinely inspired desserts he could make using another of Northamptonshire’s traditional fruits, apricots.
For centuries Aynho in South Northamptonshire has been unique for the extraordinary fact that virtually every house had an apricot tree growing in its garden.
If you visit the village later in the year you’ll see them ripening to a delicious golden colour.
Just in time for Richard to bring home the trophy!