Apple | James Rich
Apple: Recipes from the Orchard
By James Rich
Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table talking to cookbook authors.
James Rich: Hi, I'm James Rich, and I'm the author or Apple: Recipes from the Orchard, which is out now.
Suzy Chase: Apple is a celebration of this humble fruit. What inspired you to write this cookbook?
James Rich: That's quite an interesting question, actually. My family, we have a cider farm in Somerset in England, where I'm from. It's been going for generations, and even before we had the farm we were working on the land and working within the fruit and vegetable industry in Somerset for centuries before that. So for me, it represents home, and the inspiration behind focusing on apple in the book is because... it's to link back to my family. It has multiple meanings for me, but also for us as a culture as well. I think it has a number of meanings for us in culture through history and religion, even. It's got multiple meanings, but for me it's something that represents home.
Suzy Chase: Did you include any old family recipes in this cookbook?
James Rich: Yeah, I did actually. The cider farm back at home, we actually have a restaurant there, as well, so the idea for the cookbook came to me many, many years ago when I worked there as a teenager. We'd use the produce from the farm, the apple juice and the cider, the hard cider it would be called in America, we used those, obviously, in the dishes that we served. We used to have customers come in and ask us about how we used the produce from the farm in the dishes, so we thought about maybe writing out a leaflet or some information about the recipes and sharing them with customers.
James Rich: When I actually started writing it a couple of years ago, I was able to go back to the farm and talk to them about those dishes years ago, and include some of them in the book like the stews, pies and things like that. They're slightly, slightly edited versions to what we used to put in the farm, but there's some old recipes in there that we've updated for 2019.
Suzy Chase: Wait, you call our hard cider your apple cider?
James Rich: Hard cider in the US is just cider in the UK. So, when I say cider, I'm talking about the alcoholic beverage. When I say cider in America, you're talking about apple juice, right?
Suzy Chase: Yeah.
James Rich: Yeah, non-alcoholic. Cider in the UK has got alcohol in it. It's very confusing.
Suzy Chase: So, what do you call the non-alcoholic one?
James Rich: Just apple juice.
Suzy Chase: Okay.
James Rich: Yeah.
Suzy Chase: I'm taking notes.
Suzy Chase: So, a little history. Where did the apple tree originate?
James Rich: Interestingly, the apple tree, originally, is from an areas that's known as Kazakhstan. Out there, they actually have forests. They still do, apparently. I'd love to visit it. Hopefully will be able to one day. They actually have forests of apple trees out there, and if you go out there this time of year, obviously all of the trees are covered in the glorious fruit. The smell must be amazing.
James Rich: It originated in that part of the world, and then, through various empires and things, the Roman Empire was crucial in moving the trees around with them as they conquered various parts of the world. Much of the spread of the tree happened during the Roman times. They figured that the apple was, obviously, a very hardy fruit, it's very nutritious, and it was easily stored over winter. So the uprooted some of the trees, I imagine, moved it around their ever-expanding empire, and helped share the fruit to new groups of people and embed it in our everyday life. You can find apples in every single country in the world now, they're so far reaching.
Suzy Chase: As you said, you're a master cider maker's son, and your family has been making a living off the land for centuries in Somerset, England. Tell me about one of your fondest memories growing up around the apple trees.
James Rich: Oh, I have loads. If you ever get to visit Somerset, I would really encourage you to. We live on the Somerset Levels, which is a very flat part of the country. They Levels are below sea level, so they tend to flood quite easily. In the winter, it's quite a wet environment, but because of that and because of all the water, it's absolutely vibrant green. It's just such a beautiful place, and we're surrounded by all of these wonderful apple trees that grow really well in that part of the world.
James Rich: Lots of memories. My dad, obviously, he would be, this time of year in the last part of the year, he was pressing the apples, but in the early parts of the year he was pruning the trees. So, when I was younger, I have many memories of me and my sisters going with him to work and running around an orchard while he's pruning trees and digging, ferreting in ditches and thickets to find little animals, toads and things like that. Having a whale of a time getting lost in this magical world under the trees. It's very evocative for me. This time of year, as well, if you go around September-October when the apples are being pressed, the farm smells of that beautiful crushed apple smell. I've got very found memories of that as well.
Suzy Chase: I don't think I know anyone who doesn't like apples, do you?
James Rich: No. Funny story. When I was writing the book, I haven't met anybody who doesn't like apples; however, I do have a friend who, when I was testing the recipes... I don't know about you, if you've ever tested recipes, but I can only test them so many times before I lose the ability to be critical or even taste them, which is obviously quite important if you're writing about food. So, I went on social media, spoke to some friends, and said, "Look, if I send you some recipes, can you test them for me?" Obviously, I'm writing an apple cookbook and it was known then that that's what I was doing.
James Rich: I sent one to one friend, it was the tumeric and apple soup, and I said, "If you could just give it a test. Let me know, be as critical as you want when you come back." So she made it. She got back in touch with me and said, "Oh, I've made the soup." I was like, "Oh, brilliant. What did you think?" She said, "It was okay, but I don't really like apples in savory dishes." So, I was like, "Oh. I'm not really sure what we can do for you, then." It was very good. She did like it, but she wasn't so keen on apples in cooking, so I suppose the book's maybe not for her.
Suzy Chase: I get that, because I love raw apples, but I don't love apples that have been cooked. It changes the crunchiness, it changes the consistency of it. I get it. I'm with her a little bit.
James Rich: Yeah. There's a recipe in the book, which I've made a couple of times as I've been doing events launching the book, which is an apple, coconut and ginger curry, and that generally is one dish in the book that people really question. They're like, "Oh, really? How does apple work with a curry sauce?" That recipe, specifically, has its roots in the Caribbean and in Sri Lanka, where they use a lot of fruit and spices together. I personally think it's delicious, but it is one of those, we would say in the UK, a marmite meal where you either love it or you hate it.
Suzy Chase: Yes. So, this is a really good story. Tell us about the drinking water situation in Somerset.
James Rich: Oh, yes. As I was saying, Somerset is below sea level, and when we have a lot of rainfall that often means that the land floods. In centuries gone past, it would result in the water stagnating and not being incredibly healthy to drink. And actually quite dangerous; it could kill you if it was mixed with something not very friendly. In the very old days, the local landowners and farmers would make cider and beer as a form of payment for the landworkers, and they would take that as payment because it was a form of healthy hydration. So, you'd be allocated an amount you could drink every day. I don't think it was, probably, quite as alcoholic as the hard cider we have today, but the fermentation process and mixing it, it kills all the bugs and the bad things in the water. It brought it back round to being a healthy form of hydration for people.
James Rich: So, apples and cider, it's not just a fruit and a drink that we enjoy today at our leisure and we have a great time sitting in a nice square or in the beer garden in a pub, enjoying it on a nice hot day. It actually has roots in that part of the world as being something that was really, really fundamental to society. So it's an important thing.
Suzy Chase: I feel a little badly for the apple because it's been labeled a forbidden fruit, and lots of other negative connotations.
James Rich: Yeah, it has. It goes well back into religious culture, and I think it's a really unfair label. It's super healthy, it's packed full of vitamins. Yes, of course, it has natural sugars. It's much better. I think that we should revisit our love for this fruit because it would be much better if we snacked on things like apple and other fruits, rather than reached for our refined sugar snacks that we tend to have today or fizzy pop and things like that. So, I think it's an unfair label, but I think people are getting it again now. I think it's having a bit of a resurgence, hopefully.
Suzy Chase: Growing apples is no easy business. Describe how they're selected and picked.
James Rich: The tree is grafted together. If you need to make a new variety, you'll make a parent stock and you'll graft those two stock together to formulate a new type of apple. So, you can find trees that have multiple different types of apple on them. You can have one tree in your garden that has, say, a cooking apple and an eating apple, an apple fruits in very late August and an apple that fruits in, maybe, October time. Just on one tree because of the way that you draft the young tree to an older version of it. It's a very technical way of growing fruit, but it results in really hardy trees and really hardy fruit stock, which is really important.
James Rich: Then, the farmers or the cider makers will go out and assess the types of apple that they want to use. There are absolutely thousands of different varieties in the world. I think it's about 7,500 globally, different varieties of apple. I think, in the US, it's about 4,500 that you grow there, and I think we're about 2,500-3,000 in the UK. There are so many to pick from, and there are constantly new varieties being added. Whether there's some with a higher sugar content for a juice, or whether it's something that's a little bit more bitter-sharp for cider or even cooking, there's an apple for everything. There are apples that have pineapple notes, or even a tobacco taste or strawberry, and there are others that are just very, very sharp, standard apple flavor. It's a very interesting topic, and if you spoke to my dad, who is the master of this, he would talk for hours on how you propagate and grow apple trees.
Suzy Chase: So, how are they picked? Is there a machine?
James Rich: It's actually better for cider if the apples drop. They drop to the floor, which means they're super, super ripe, and they can then be picked up by a machine or handpicked, depending on the size of the orchard. My family source the apples all from local orchard owners. We obviously grow some ourselves and have our own orchards, but there's never enough to fulfill demand so they always buy them in from other sources, from other orchards. But because a lot of these orchards in that part of the world are super, super old, you sometimes can't get machinery around the trees, so you have to go and handpick, which obviously takes a bit longer. Generally, you'll wait until they drop to the floor, and then you'll pick them up by machine or by hand, or give the branches a little shake to make the ripest apples drop and pick them that way. But yeah, it takes a long time.
Suzy Chase: You were talking about all of the varieties. Is there a market for all of these different varieties of apples?
James Rich: No, and it's a real shame. When I started writing the variety section in the book, I wanted to try and include as many different varieties, and as many weird and wonderful varieties, as possible, but there are so many, it was practically impossible to do. There are specialists, and I really encourage people to speak to their local farmers market or do some research and find some local growers, there's some amazing ones in the US, who specialize in heritage varieties, older varieties, and something that's a little bit different because you've kept the integrity of the apple that's been there for such a long time. The taste is amazing, it really bursts in your mouth, the juice is often much better. They'll always be seasonal, as well, so you can only ever get them at the time that they're available.
James Rich: I put a note in the book just encouraging people to go out and find local growers and sources for different types of varieties, because you can really have a play with those within your food. Like I said, they have multiple different flavor notes in the different varieties, so you can have a play with what works better for the dish that you're creating.
Suzy Chase: What's your favorite apple in the US?
James Rich: What I see a lot of there is the Macintosh, which is quite a standard variety that's available in supermarkets. It's a good generic apple and, I think, will work really well in salads as well as baking them for a desert would be delicious as well.
Suzy Chase: What's your favorite in the UK?
James Rich: My favorite in the UK is the Cox's Orange Pippin, which you obviously have in the US as well, so maybe I should have said that.
Suzy Chase: What's it called?
James Rich: It's called a Cox's Orange Pippin, and it is a very, very old variety. It's quite small, red-green color, quite sharp, but it's actually a parent apple to many of the more popular apples on the market now. If you go up the family tree of the apples, you'll often find the Cox's Orange Pippin there. It's a great apple for dicing up and throwing in a salad, very hardy, but packed with flavor.
Suzy Chase: You were talking about the weird and wonderful, and I read about the Knobby Russet, the ugliest apple in the world. That made me laugh.
James Rich: Yeah. Awful. That's an awful description of it because I think it's one of the most wonderful apples in the world. You don't tend to see them very often, even over here, because they have quite a hard, textured, brown skin on, and people get turned off by that. They like to see what we've been shown as being the more-preferred varieties, those shiny red- or green-skinned apples that are obviously, clearly very crispy and juicy, whereas these are rough to touch, they're a little bit brown, and they don't last as long as the other varieties do. But they are absolutely delicious, they've got a beautiful, sharp, almost creamy juice to them, and they're great in a whole variety of cooking. Actually, I love juicing them in a smoothie or something because the flavor is so distinctive.
Suzy Chase: So, I love using apple cider vinegar, and I've never thought of making it at home. You have a recipe in the cookbook. Can you describe it?
James Rich: Now, this is an unfiltered cider vinegar, so you will get the mother, the sediment that will collect at the bottom. So it's not as clean and crisp as the ones that you'll find in the supermarket, but it's very easy to make. What I tend to do is keep the cores and the skins of apples. So, if you're cooking, when I've cored and skinned the apples that I'm cooking with, I'll throw the cores and skins into a little bag and pop it in the freezer until I have enough to make a big batch.
James Rich: Then, you add filtered water to the skins and the cores, and a little bit of sugar. What that helps do is helps ferment it. Just leave it in a dark, dry place for about... keep on checking it, but it can take anything from a couple of weeks to three-four weeks for it to ferment. It just sits there, really, and will gradually turn to vinegar. Then, once it's done, around three-four weeks, take it out, strain the apple pieces out of the liquid. Some of the sediment will still come through, so unless you have a proper filtration system it's never going to completely remove the sediment. It's fine, it's not going to hurt you. Then you have your own apple cider vinegar. Very easy, it takes a minute.
Suzy Chase: As you wrote, "A book about apples wouldn't be complete without the king of apple deserts, the apple pie." Talk to me about your hunt for the perfect American apple pie.
James Rich: I'm very nervous about this.
Suzy Chase: Hit it!
James Rich: When I was talking to my publisher about the recipes that we were looking to include, I thought, "Oh, I can't include an apple pie because everybody knows how to make that or they have their preferred recipe that's been handed down through the years," but we decided that we should make an attempt to celebrate the American apple pie. I'm very fortunate and have some friends in the US who I talked to about their recipes for apple pies, and their mothers' recipes and grandmothers'. To be honest, you're very protective of your recipes! You didn't want to give away the secrets very much, but I could glean some insight into what people like about it and what people don't like about it. I think the crust is something that you are very, very keen on.
James Rich: I also did some research into... I was like, "Right. What's epitomizes America and American apple pie?" I was like, "Well, the kitchen at the White House. Let's see what they use." There was an interview done many years ago, I think it was Obama who was in the White House, so maybe not that long ago... There was an interview by the head chef at the White House who talked about the apple pie that he serves there that, apparently, Obama was very keen on. It talks about using the lard and everything in the pastry, and using a nut so it's like a nut crust in the pastry. So I thought, "Oh, brilliant. I'll try that."
James Rich: I tested a recipe with some different varieties of apple. You've got Bramley apples, cooking apples, as well as things like Granny Smith in there, which help give that sauce-and-apple-pieces texture to the sauce. There's a little bit of spice in there too. The key thing, I think, is the crust. We make a hazelnut crust on my pie, so I just make a very basic short crust pastry with some hazelnuts in, as well, and some extra sugar, and bake that. The crust becomes almost like a kind of biscuit, so it's very tasty. I'm hoping that it's a kind of ode to the good old American pie and that people like it, but we'll see.
Suzy Chase: Yesterday I made your recipes for the all-American apple pie and the apple and rosemary cake. Describe your final version... Well, you kind of already did this, but give us little bit of overview of the American apple pie.
James Rich: The American apple pie, it has a filling that's made up of a variety of different apples. The nice thing about it is that you can, like I was saying earlier, go out and find apples that are potentially new to you, try them out, and decide what your preferred combination is. In there I've got cooking apples, which I think are essential for an apple pie because they break down and they give that lovely, gooey sauce, which I love. I've also got Granny Smith in there, a hard eating apple, which will cook but it keeps its shape. It won't lose it, so you can get that nice... when you cut into a pie and you get that segment, you can see the layers of the apples. Then, I sometimes also put another, red eating apple in there. I sometimes have three varieties, which is quite nice. So, a mixture of varieties in there with some sugar, some cinnamon; got a nice, spicy mix.
James Rich: Then, the crust is the hazelnut crust. A short crust pastry mixed with some ground hazelnuts, a little bit of extra sugar in there, which creates a kind of biscuit-like texture to the crust, which I think is lovely. Pastry can be a little bit more tricky to work with because of the hazelnuts, but if you master it then it's definitely worth it. I promise.
James Rich: Then, the rosemary cake is an apple loaf with rosemary in. It was a recipe I actually make accidentally. I was making some standard apple loaves and testing the different varieties, and then randomly put in a sprig of rosemary on top of one of the loaves I was testing. It came out and it tasted really delicious, so I upped the rosemary in it, I think I added some almonds on top, and we have our final rosemary cakes.
James Rich: Those are actually two of my favorite. The rosemary cake, I think, is actually really good. I like it a lot.
Suzy Chase: Oh my gosh, it smells as good as it tastes.
James Rich: Yeah, it does, doesn't it. It fills the kitchen.
Suzy Chase: Oh my gosh. There's quite a bit of lemon in it, so the rosemary-lemon-apple combination is delicious.
James Rich: I wish that was me planning it and being very strategical in the way that I was writing, but it was a total fluke!
Suzy Chase: Well, we're thankful for that fluke.
Suzy Chase: Now to my new segment this season called My Favorite Cookbook. Aside from this cookbook, what is your all-time favorite cookbook and why?
James Rich: Oh, that is such a hard question! Okay, I'm going to give you two or three, and then I'll pick my favorite.
Suzy Chase: Okay. Drum roll. Here we go.
James Rich: Okay. I grew up in the UK, and over here, I don't know if you're aware of someone called Delia Smith.
Suzy Chase: No.
James Rich: She is absolutely huge in this country. She basically helped a whole generation of home cooks learn how to cook. She's similar to Mary Berry on Bake Off, that ilk of general icon. Anyway, she released a book called Delia's Cookery Course, I think it's called, which she broke down into three or four volumes, when I was about 10 or 11. I remember getting those books as gifts for my birthday and Christmas and absolutely devouring them, loving the way that she wrote and the pictures. She really stripped it back, so she was teaching you how to boil everything, from an egg to make a stew, as the books progressed. I really love those, and I've got very happy memories of reading those books.
James Rich: My two favorite food writers, one is Nigel Slater, who I absolutely love. It's not a cookery book, but I've recently re-read his book Toast, which is about his life growing up with food. Which I love, I love that. Then, his later cookbooks as well, which I think are amazing.
James Rich: Then, my ultimate favorite is Diana Henry. I'm a huge Diana Henry fan. I think that the way that she writes... I don't think there's anybody else like her. Her book A Bird in the Hand, the chicken book as it's known in my house, I think that's my all-time favorite cookbook. I just love that book. I think it's so interesting that she's taken one topic, one ingredient, and she's created about 80 recipes, and they're just a whole ton of ways that you can cook with chicken. The way that she describes her early memories of roasted chicken and things like that is just amazing. So, I think that is my favorite all-time cookbook.
Suzy Chase: One last question before we wrap up. I wanted to ask you about apple cider donuts. So, in the fall, our farmers markets sell these delicious apple cider donuts, and I didn't see it mentioned in your cookbook. Do you have these in England?
James Rich: No, that's not something we have. I think, correct me if I'm wrong, it's the glaze, isn't it, that's apple cider.
Suzy Chase: No, I think they work the apple cider into the mix too.
James Rich: Oh, right. Okay. No, that's not something we actually have here, hence why I didn't include them. I have got some apple fritters, which are very similar. It's kind of like a donut dough.
Suzy Chase: Yes, we know what those are.
James Rich: Yeah. That's the closest I've got to it, but I'd love to try one of those. I haven't tasted one. I'm going to be back later on in the year, so I might go and find them in the farmers market.
Suzy Chase: Yes! Definitely.
Suzy Chase: So, where can we find you on the web and social media?
James Rich: You can find me on Instagram, james_rich, and also my website, which is brand-new and I'm trying very hard to keep it updated, which is jamesrichcooks.com.
Suzy Chase: Thanks, James, for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
James Rich: Thank you so much for having me. It's been really fun. Thank you.
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