Last Saturday I visited a fruit farm near Newent in Gloucestershire with around twenty others, all of us there with the same purpose: to collect as many apples as we could on the day.
This was my first such outing as a “gleaner”. The farmer had kindly agreed to open his orchards to our group of “gleaners” for the day, and between us we harvested three and a half tonnes of apples, the equivalent of 43,750 portions, to distribute to various projects such as Foodbank, women’s refuge centres and homeless centres.
The Gleaning Network, established just three years ago, coordinates volunteers, farmers and food redistribution charities in order to salvage the thousands of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables that are wasted on farms every year across the UK and Europe, and direct this fresh, nutritious food to people in need.
The apples we picked last Saturday were Gala and Royal Gala varieties, all of them beautiful and perfectly edible but virtually worthless to the farmer because they did not meet the supermarkets’ exacting criteria in terms of size, colour, and other cosmetic characteristics, including factors such as minor blemishes and even the amount of pressure per square centimetre the apple could withstand.
At the start of the day the farmer explained to our group how it was not financially viable for him to bring in hired labour to harvest these apples, and that without us coming in to pick them they would otherwise have been wasted.
Some 40% of food waste occurs in the link between growers and supermarkets, most of it due to rejection of fruit and vegetables on cosmetic grounds, and seeing so many beautiful apples potentially going to waste really brought home to me at first hand the scale of the problem this indifferent approach to the value of food causes.
Gleaning is gaining more and more supporters. Working in the rain to pick those lovely apples alongside so many interesting and committed people reaffirmed my belief that in the midst of the madness that underpins so much of the system delivering food to our plates there is a growing core of enlightened dissent which places humanity, collectivity and common sense at its heart, and that will eventually prevail.
I brought home a few of the apples I had picked from the glean, and so the apple really had to be the star of this week’s recipe.
I am always experimenting in the kitchen, and this recipe features my latest version of vegan pastry, where the combination of coconut oil, almond butter and maple syrup produces a good short crust structure. The apples, of course, are Gala and Royal Gala, but any good quality local eating apples will do, whatever their size, shape or colour. If they are not organic (as, sadly, these were not), it is best to peel them as non organic apples have one of the highest concentrations of residual pesticides of any fruit.
apple and rosemary tartlets
for the pastry
200 g organic plain flour
40 g smooth almond butter
60 g coconut oil
40 ml maple syrup
30 ml cold water
pinch sea salt
for the filling
2 apples, preferably organic
juice of a lemon
50 g coconut oil
70 ml maple syrup
100 g ground almonds
20 g cornflour
pinch sea salt
80 ml almond milk
1 tsp organic vanilla extract
6 small sprigs fresh rosemary
1. To make the pastry, melt the coconut oil over a very low heat. Place the flour, almond butter, melted coconut oil, maple syrup and sea salt in the bowl of a food mixer and process until the mixture forms a pliable dough. Gradually add the cold water to get the desired consistency: you may not need to add all of it.
2. When you are ready to make the tartlets, preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F, gas mark 3). Flour a board or surface and roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm. This pastry holds its shape well but is a little more delicate that conventional pastry, so treat it gently. Line six tartlet tins carefully with the pastry and trim to fit. Prick the base and sides with a fork and line the pastry with foil and then line the foil with baking stones or beans. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
3. While the tartlet cases are blind baking, prepare the filling. Melt the coconut oil and pour it into the bowl of a food processor, along with the almond milk, maple syrup, cornflour, ground almonds, sea salt and vanilla extract in the bowl of a food processor and process until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. You should end up with a thick batter.
4. Peel and cut each apple into quarters then slice thinly using a mandolin or sharp knife. Place the slices in a bowl and add the lemon juice and carefully toss together.
5. Divide the batter mixture between the pastry cases. Arrange the apple segments artistically on top of the batter in a tight concentric circles, pushing them down a little into the batter as you do. Place one of the smaller rosemary sprigs on top of each tartlet.
6. Bake the tarts in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the apples are soft and the batter is set. Leave to cool for a few minutes until comfortable enough to handle, then carefully remove the tart from the flan dish (it should come out easily, but if you leave the tart to go cold it will become harder to release from the tin as the coconut oil will solidify. If this happens, run a blowtorch briefly around the outside of the tin and the happens, briefly run a blowtorch around the edge of the tin and the tart should then slip out). serve whilst warm.