County Armagh also known as the Orchard County is where I grew up and was reluctant to leave – even if only 5 minutes drive away – I now live in Tyrone.
My grandfather who lived two fields down from us – as children we took the direct route through the three hedges and two fields – got into the apple business shortly after the war so Bramley apples have always featured in my life.
My father had two small orchards, one of which started at the garden fence and my five brothers and I earned pocket money picking the apples and pulling suckers from the trees. My father’s orchards are long gone but the orchards of County Armagh produce 40,000 tonnes of Bramley apples annually and you don’t have to go far to see them growing.
In 2012 Armagh Bramley apples were awarded PGI status ( Protected Geographical Indication ) a designation given to foods that are recognised as being original and unique to a specific geographical location. The mild, damp climate and the lower likelihood of late frosts are what make the area particularly suited to the growing of Bramley apples.
My mother baked apple tarts, crumbles and potato apple bread ( a County Armagh speciality always served at Halloween in our house) and even my father on occasion made an apple tart, all recipes I continue to make and teach in my baking classes. Bramley apples are bitter but it is the unique texture that softens on cooking that makes them ideal for cooking and desserts.
In my upcoming workshop, we will visit Rose Mackle’s orchard which is owned by my Uncle Des and down the road from where I grew up. Uncle Des will give a tour of the orchard and chat about Bramley apples, the history and his own family history in the business. Then it’s back to the cookery school for refreshments and a hands-on baking class with Bramley apples as the star of the show.
Below are my father and grandfather with myself and two of my brothers. Apples and orchards feature in many of my childhood photos.