Apples are the most loved, most widely grown and varied fruit crop in Scandinavia. There are thousands of original cultivars, but few of them are known outside the region, despite the fact that apples grown in the northern soils are tastier and crisper than those from warmer, sunnier climates. Learn more about apples from Scandinavia.
Such qualities are being appreciated by a rapidly growing number of people in Scandinavia, who are rejuvenating the fruit-tree trade, grafting at home, planting small orchards, saving aged fruit trees, and demanding old cultivars with more taste in the s’hops. This comes after decades during which imported apples, such as Golden Delicious and Granny Smith, have dominated the scene. It’s high time that we discovered these national treasures, a much too good and interesting heritage to let disappear. It is time that we taught our children that there’s more to apples than sweetness.
There are thousands of original cultivars, some of them known worldwide, such as Gravenstein, Gråsten is the original Danish name, after the royal castle Gråsten, where a very old tree of this cultivar (if not the original tree) still exists.
The Swedish apple Aroma has also achieved worldwide recognition, a lovely dark red eating apple with a waxy bloom. The Pigeon apple is another very special variety of old ancestry; it is probably even able to reproduce itself true to seed. It is a pretty small, dark red apple with a unique flavor. Traditionally picked in October, it is left to ripen and develop its intense color. Pigeons are eaten at Christmas, and even used to decorate the Christmas tree. They are delicious in salads and dipped in caramel.
Every country has its own cultivars, and many are kept alive in the national arboretums and local pomets (tree museums), where you can see the trees and taste the apples. Naturally, many more have vanished, but some can still be found unnamed, in old gardens and orchards. These multitudes of cultivars are mostly chance seedlings, revealing themselves on compost heaps and wherever somebody threw an apple core. The vast majority are worthless, but are a perfect example of serendipity at work: people have stumbled upon them, tried them and a few have been recognized and grown on for generations, in the neighborhood, long before there was any trade in fruit trees. Vicarages once played a large part in spreading both know-how and planting material of both useful and ornamental plants to their parishes, and before the Reformation the monasteries did the same.
Having religion paving the way was a very useful method of spreading the know-how to stubborn peasants, who did not want to use precious land for dainty fruit trees or berry bushes. But it caught on, the women probably realizing first that collecting wild apples of doubtful taste was not as good as growing your own grafted trees that were more prolific, with sweeter, juicier and more useful fruit. Sweetness was precious in old times, before sugar was accessible, when many fruits were dried for winter – and the sweeter the apple were, the better they were dried.
Related: Fruit From Scandinavia
Appearance and taste
The cold climate in Scandinavia means that apples grow at a slow pace, allowing the fruit to take up more minerals and other nutrients, which deepen the taste. Also, when the sun is not scorching, the apple do not need to grow such thick skin to stop the fruit from drying out.
Perfection in an apple is far from enough to secure a good fruit. You must know your cultivars, for example, and their uses. There is a huge difference between eating apples and cooking apples (even if cookers can be eaten uncooked late in the season). Eating apples have more acid and sometimes more sugar, keeping them firm while cooking. Cooking apples are lower in both, cooking to a pulp – it’s nice to know the difference if you plan on an apple pie or baked apple. Furthermore, how the apples have been shown to have more taste (as well as more nutrients) than conventionally grown fruit. Modern consumers often refuse to buy imperfect-looking apples with spots, fungi or blemishes, considering looks more important than taste or origin.
Buying and storing
If you just buy a bag of apples for immediate consumption, it’s easy – the fruit should be fragrant, firm and without rotten spots. Home-grown apples that you wish to store must be picked off the tree and put in wooden crates very carefully, as the slightest pressure will influence their durability. Store very cool and frost free. The apples should keep all winter – depending on the cultivar, of course. Apples collected from the ground must be used within a few days. Keep cool, but not necessarily in the fridge.
Apples are very good for you, particularly if you chose organic fruit, which have a higher and more varied content of minerals, micronutrients and vitamins than conventionally grown varieties. All apples contain serotonin, which helps us to keep happy.
There are a couple of important facts to be aware of. Firstly, modern cultivars are too sweet – actually so sweet that dentists advise us to consider them more like confectionary than fruit. Secondly, if you don’t choose to eat organic apples, you are exposing your body to the residues of pesticides found both on the skin and in the flesh of the fruit. The content may be below a level that is considered harmful, but even small doses are definitely not good for you or your children.
Apples must be the most versatile fruit in the kitchen. They are eaten raw, in salads, or cooked, whether as a sauce, baked, stuffed or fried. As a dessert, in a cake, trifle or simply baked, apples are of course a classic. But they are as useful in savoury as in sweet cooking – and in Scandinavia there is a thriving tradition in both.
In savoury terms, apples are often paired with fish and pork. The tradition of combining them with meat and fish is celebrated particularly at Christmas, when they are stuffed into the Christmas goose or duck along with prunes and thyme, and on the Christmas lunch table there is apple with the crips roast pork, the herrings and the herring salad.
Braised pork with apples
This is a perfect take on the age-old marriage of pork and apples – ideal for Christmas, or a buffet. Once in the oven, it takes care of itself. Serve with potatoes.
2kg pork neck, in one piece, with rind
Coarse sea salt and pepper
4 fresh bay leaves
1.5kg eating apples
1 whole garlic bulb
1kg onions, peeled and quarted
2 cinnamon sticks
1 large sprig-of-fresh thyme
100ml cider vinegar
1 ½ liters unfiltered apple juice (not from concentrate)
Preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2
Using a sharp knife, make slashes in the rind of the pork, then rub the meat generously with salt and pepper, make sure you rub plenty of salt into the cuts in the rind. Stick the bay leaves into the cuts.
Core and quarter the apples, but do not peel. Divide the garlic bulb into cloves, but do not necessarily peel. Arrange the apples, garlic, onions, cinnamon and thyme in a deep dish. This must be big enough to host the meat and vegetables in a layer of about 4cm deep. Squeeze the meat into the middle. Por the vinegar and juice over the vegetables.
Bake in oven for approximately 2 hour, turning the vegetables over once in a while to coat with the pan-juices. The meat is done when the juices run a pinkish brown and the cracking is crispy. If it is not crispy, put the meat on a rack and roast for a few minutes at 240C/gas mark 9, while you watch.
Leave the meat to rest for 20 minutes before carving. Mash the garlic in with the vegetables before serving.
Apples From Scandinavia, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Apples in Skåne, Sweden. Photo: Visit Sweden