Had the Swiss version of apple ducking taken place in the present “caring” climate, William Tell’s son would have been whisked away by Social Services before you could say “Please, Daddy, stop firing arrows at my head”. The Swiss, with that irrepressible sense of humour for which they are so well known, preferred to call it “arrow ducking”: more precise, more funny. Precision gives the Swiss a hard on, whereas smiling or laughing just wastes time and there’s certainly no money in it. As so often happens, the sport was adopted by the good ole US of A who, with the memory of General Custer’s inept display of “arrow ducking” during the contretemps at the Little Big Horn still fresh in the common memory, decided to rename it “apple” ducking. As the Constitution allows, and Moses (that’s Charlton Heston) demands, that they carry assault rifles, it is now more commonly known as “apple fucking”. There is another version of the game that doesn’t involve weapons, but it’s quite dull unless someone drowns.
I recently did three things with apples that didn’t involve anyone getting hurt. The apples didn’t like it, but nobody hears an apple scream. ( Is that a good name for an apple dish, or is that a good name?) This is the simplest of apple confections on a puff pastry base. What makes it so delicious, if not handsome, is the cooking of the apples before they find their way on to the pastry. Sweet apples are peeled, cored and sliced before being slowly cooked in a great deal of butter. Several heaped tablespoons of dense, dark sucre vergeoise are added, followed by a good teaspoon of vanilla paste. This mixture bubbles on a low heat until the apples have softened, at which time the heat is turned up until the sauce reduces t0 a stickiness and the apples start to catch. The apples are then put on the pastry base and cooked for 25 in an oven at 190C.
Baked apples in my experience have on occasion, on quite a few occasions, been a dreadful let down. They’ve looked the part, but not tasted as good as the tart.These apples were traditional large, green, Granny Smiths: the ne ultra plus of apples for baking. On this occasion they were cored, and stuffed with sultanas, raisins, walnuts and tamped down, like naval cannons, with crumbly demerara sugar. A bag of hardened molasses, reminiscent of a bag of concrete that had been left out in the rain, was beaten into pieces and the shards and lumps showered over the tightly packed apples. More molasses were melted and poured over the waiting fruit, I think, and maybe some other ingredients, but that’s all in the past. I do remember cooking them for a good 50 mins in an oven at 190C. They were unbelievably good with some Ginger Pig Vanilla ice cream which my son, Sam, had wisely invested in.
Finally there’s a simple apple crumble. I made this from an often used recipe in Caroline Conran’s 70’s classic “Poor Cook”. I still treasure a battered copy of this gem on my book shelves, and never was a book more appositely titled.I made my crumble with dessert apples, as I didn’t have any Granny Smiths, or should it be Mamet Smiths, as we’re in France. When you have prepared the dry ingredient mix for the topping, it is worth splashing on some drops of cold water and mixing it in with a spoon. This creates lumps in the mix that are delicious when cooked.