Allens Farm was a favourite of mine, supplying me often with good produce from their Kentish cherry orchard. Tucked away behind high-banked roads near Sevenoaks, it was famous primarily for cobnuts, but produced a host of marvellous fruit boughs, too. The trees – instead of growing in serried ranks, standing to attention – were wonderful, ancient, and grew in a seemingly random fashion to a great height.
To climb the trees and pick a fine harvest there were a few of those lovely, old, not to mention cleverly shaped, ladders that flared at the ground and narrowed as you climbed into the branches, laden as they were with the abundant dark fruits. Lured by the seldom-seen beauties in the cherry orchard, I was up the ladder in a trice. Within not even a minute, I was ordered down off the ladder by the gentlest farmer, who issued a kind reprimand that the ladders were of a great age and not so steady.
On the other side of the tree was a metal scaffold that had a platform set high enough to reach the upper branches, by which their joyful burden could be accessed more securely. Ah well, there’s an allegory for you – bye-bye romance and hello sturdy and sensible. Of course it got the job done and amid much laughter if memory serves.
Abutting the cherry orchard was a great field of cobnuts that were harvested by hand. A few Southdown sheep grazed among the trees – a peerless lamb that fed upon the orchard’s windfall and made for marvellous eating. There were plums, too, and a few pears as I recall. And, of course, apples.
I love apples, delighting in their myriad varieties and colours, and their varying textures and flavours, which range dramatically from sweet and crisp to the most magnificently sour. They chivvy along a joint of pork, or a duck or goose, very well indeed. Compotes and delicate apple sauces and salads can brighten the Sunday roast marvellously. That said, little compares to an apple pie, that marvel of the British table.
There is great joy to be had from apples crammed into a pastry case spread liberally with almond frangipane. Baked well until achieving that magical dark hue which so elevates French baking, the apples yield into the frangipane, and all that remains is to fetch a great bowl of jersey cream. Should some custard feature, and perhaps a scoop of vanilla ice-cream too, then behold – a very good pudding.
Apple and almond tart
It is a good manoeuvre to make the pastry and the frangipane the day before.
For the pastry
170g plain flour
100g unsalted, cold butter
1 tsp icing sugar, sifted
1 whole egg
1 tbsp ice cold water
For the frangipane
50g unsalted butter, softened
50g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
50g whole almonds, ground
For the apples
Juice of 1 lemon
6 firm, crisp apples such as a russet, cox’s, braeburn or jonagold
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 Warm the oven to 170C/335F/gas 3½. Have ready a 24cm diameter, 25mm deep (or thereabouts) fluted tart case – if possible with a removable base. Chop the cold butter into small pieces and refrigerate again to keep them solid.
2 To make the pastry, put the flour and butter into a bowl and gently rub together until you have achieved a fine crumb. Add the sifted icing sugar, the egg and the spoon of ice-cold water. Gently mix until a ball of dough forms. Knead this very gently until smooth. Flatten lightly into a disc and refrigerate.
3 Meanwhile, make the frangipane. Put the butter and the sugar into a bowl and beat well for a minute. Add the egg yolk and beat again. Stir in the ground almonds. Put this mixture into a clean bowl, cover and refrigerate.
4 Put the lemon juice into a large bowl. Peel each apple and toss it in the lemon juice. Once done, quarter each apple, remove the core and cut each quarter into 2-3 slices, depending on the size of the apple. Toss the slices from time to time to keep discolouration at bay.
5 Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. Line the tart case and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
6 Spread the frangipane over the bottom of the tart case. Start studding the frangipane with the apples, starting from the outside in, moving around the tart, adding as much apple as the tart can take. It is conceivable that more apple may be required, so feel free to add at will. I like a tart brimming with apple.
7 Sprinkle the top with sugar and pop the tart into the oven (a tray beneath might be advisable, to catch any rogue drips). Bake for an hour, checking from time to time that the tart is not colouring too enthusiastically. Lower the temperature to 130C/265F/gas ½ should the tart have coloured, but still seem undone. Bake for a further 15 minutes – so 75 minutes in total.
8 Remove the tart from the oven and sit upon a rack. Once it has cooled and settled, remove the tart from the case. Set the tart upon a handsome dish. Decant a great tub of jersey cream … et voila.
- Jeremy Lee is the chef-proprietor of Quo Vadis restaurant in London @jeremyleeqv