The seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness...
Posted on 7th October 2020 at 07:33
It’s amazing how the seasons suddenly seem to turn and this year is no exception. We may only be at the beginning of October, but it feels as though Autumn is well upon us, due in large part to the recent storms and torrential rainfall.
Despite the signs of the winter to come, there are still lots of local goodies to enjoy at this time of year. While the blackberries may now be over, rosehips and sloes are coming into their own, with good crops of both to be found in the hedges if you’re quick. For a reminder about their many uses, as well as the joys of foraging, click here.
However, it’s some other fruits which are at their best at this time of year that we’d like to talk about this week. They’re the ones found in just about every fruit bowl, all year round, which is probably why we take them so much for granted. But, as with any fruit in season and freshly picked, there’s nothing to beat them.
Have you guessed what we’re talking about yet?
Apples and Pears
And, the good news is it’s a fantastic year for both of them, with bumper crops on the trees.
While they’re thought of as quintessentially English fruits, both apples and pears originate in Central Asia. In fact, DNA tests on modern day apples have pinpointed the exact area where they originated from, a range of mountains in Kazakhstan, where wild apple trees can still be found.
It’s thought they both arrived in England with the Romans, although they were a far cry from the fruits we enjoy today. However, it wasn’t until the Norman Conquest in 1066 that improved varieties started to appear, thanks to the fruit growing skills of monks in French Monasteries. Not only were the monks responsible for the development of orchards but also the production of new varieties by cross pollination. And, just as important, they were expert cider makers!
Coming forward to the present day, it’s estimated there are more than 7,500 varieties of apples and 3,000 of pears worldwide, with the numbers growing each year. It’s not surprising then that apples are the second most popular fruit worldwide, just behind bananas, with pears not far behind that!
Apples and pears provide similar nutrients, both being great sources of fibre, antioxidants – particularly flavonoids and polyphenols, more about them in a minute – and Vitamin C. Apples also contain Vitamins A, E, B1, B2, B6 and K as well as Potassium, Manganese and Copper; while pears have Vitamins B2, B6 and K, Potassium, Copper and Iron.
Apples and pears have been found to have similar health benefits, including a reduced risk of many chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Cancer, Heart Disease and Dementia. They also have an anti inflammatory effect due to high levels of flavonoids. Finally, they can both help in weight loss being low in calories, while high in water and fibre, so giving a feeling of fullness / satiety.
Apples also contain high levels of pectin, as all jam makers know (!), which makes jam set. What is less well known is that pectin also acts as a prebiotic, “feeding” bacteria in the Digestive System, so helping improve the digestive process.
As always – and wherever possible- it’s best to buy local and organic, particularly at this time of year when these fruits are in season. That’s if you don’t grow your own! Not only will this ensure they’re fresher, but less likely to have been sprayed with various chemicals during growth and harvest / storage. It also means you can safely eat the skin as well, where the highest concentrations of nutrients – and fibre – are found. Finally, like all fruits, it’s better to eat them than juice them, as this ensures the blend of nutrients and fibre in the way nature intended.
When talking about apples, one old proverb / old wives’ tale always comes up. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” As we’ve just seen, this is one of those proverbs that is true and it’s a great time of year to test it for yourself!
And we must just mention one other old wives’ tale which usually quickly follows. Not to eat the apple – or pear – core, as the pips will grow – or get stuck in the Appendix, triggering Appendicitis.
While pips are not the most easily digestible thing we could ever eat, they simply pass straight through the Digestive System – and that’s probably graphic enough! In addition, it’s been found that the core contains many beneficial bacteria – from when the flower was pollinated – which are another natural probiotic for the Digestive System.
Which just leaves us with one final question which always gets asked about apples and pears. Why do they go brown so quickly after being sliced?
Well, it’s all down to their high levels of antioxidants – particularly polyphenols – which rapidly oxidise when exposed to oxygen in the air. While it makes them look less appetising – as well as tasting slightly different – it’s not harmful and is easily remedied. The easiest solution is not to cut them until you’re ready to eat them (!) or, if you must, to squeeze a little lemon juice on the cut surfaces which helps slow down the process.
And, before we finish today, if you thought the title for this week’s blog post was familiar, you’d be right. It’s the first line of a John Keats poem, written in September 1819. It’s such a poignant reminder of this time of year that we thought we’d include it at the end of this post. So, here it is:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Having looked at two of the best fruits at this time of year, we’ll be doing the same with vegetables in a couple of weeks’ time. While they may not be as exciting as some of their more exotic – or summery – counterparts (!) they still contain exactly the right nutrients as we go into the colder months of the year.
As always, the choice is yours.
Picture by unknown artist
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