As Israeli as apple pie
So many apples are produced in Israel that some are exported to Syria
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The Jewish link to apples goes back to biblical times when King Solomon praised it in the ‘Song of Songs’
Three decades ago I was among a group of kibbutz members hosting a delegation of British fruiterers to Israel and proudly showed off a leafy apple orchard ona mountain top
I had spent four years with the chaverim pruning branches, grafting new species and picking the fruit - and the yield was spectacular.
That apple trees flourished on rocky soil in the searing heat of Israel's late summer was a matter of wonder to the visitors, who were used to a crop that ripens in a cool British autumn.
Israeli orchards, particularly those in the mountain regions and in the north, produce annually about 110,000 tons of Golden and Red Delicious, Gala, Pink Lady and a newly developed variety called Anna which is well suited to warm climates.
In fact Israel, using high-tech irrigation methods, grows so many apples that Israeli Druze villagers in the Golan Heights have been able to export truck loads of excess produce to Syria with the silent approval of Jerusalem and Damascus.
Apples, of course, have always played a major role in Jewish culinary traditions of the Jewish people and it seems that they grew in ancient Israel well before the Romans introduced them to the more promising environs of southern England.
Evidence that the fruit was favoured as far back as Biblical times comes in King Solomon's 'Song of Songs', in which it is written that "as the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved Israel".
Some believe that apples were the fruit of temptation in the Garden of Eden. But there is no basis for this. The Talmud, listing the possible fruits of the Tree of Knowledge, mentions only figs and grapes, and some historians suggest that it was the heavily scented apricot, not an innocent Granny Smith, that led to the fall of man.
Jews have for many centuries marked Rosh Hashanah by consuming slices of apple dipped in honey and in Britain we are particularly blessed with many varieties of the fruit enabling us to carry out this tasty tradition.
Today there are around 1,200 native varieties good for eating, cooking and the brewing of cider.
A versatile fruit, it is delicious raw or cooked in sweet dishes or, for a more savoury experience, it is never tastier than when eaten with a chunk of strong Cheddar.
British apples also have some intriguing names. Try for instance, the crisp, sharp flavoured Barnack Beauty, the Nutmeg Pippin or, my favourite, the Egremont Russet, with a sweet and nutty flavour.
It is no wonder that local apple enthusiasts are aggrieved by the rapid influx of flavourless, smooth skinned, chilled foreign imports.
Apples are not only one of nature's tastiest treats, they also contain essential vitamins and minerals. The skin, in particular, is a good source of dietary fibre and they can reduce cholesterol levels. Thus the saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" may not be an old wives' tale after all.
● 3 cooking apples
● 55g sugar
● 85g butter
● ½ tsp cinnamon
● 175g plain flour
● Preheat oven to 180°C.
● Peel, core and slice three cooking apples, place in an oven proof dish and sprinkle with two tbsp of sugar.
● Using a food processor, whiz together 175g of plain flour and 85g of butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
● Stir in 55g of brown sugar and a half-teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
● Sprinkle the mixture over the apples and bake until the top is browned and the apples are bubbling.
● Let it cool, add custard and tuck in.