Apples are the most popular fruit in France, with each French person eating on
average 16 kilos of apples annually (followed by 12 kg of bananas and 10 kg of
oranges). The three most popular eating and culinary apple varieties in France
are Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Reine des Reinettes. In France there is
no prejudice against apples that are not red, and sweet, not too acidic apples
that retain their form when cooked are preferred.
Organic pasturised apple juice.
When people think of apples and France they normally bring to mind Brittany
and Normandy. But these north-western provinces are principally growing cider
apples, and not so much the sort you crunch into as a snack. The Loire Valley
on the other hand has just the right climatic conditions for growing dessert
and culinary apples and there are many commercial orchards here. Many apple
orchards in the Loire Valley press, pasturise and bottle their own juice too,
but there is no tradition of cider. The apples from the Loire Valley are eaten
fresh, or cooked into tarts and purées.
Homegrown apples, from left Reinette grise du Canada, Reine des
reinettes, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Melrose.
The supermarkets stock half a dozen widely popular varieties, but at the
farmers markets there are dozens of varieties. The producer will happily tell
you what the characteristics of each of the varieties are – sweet or sharp,
crunchy or soft, juicy or dry. Each variety has a different use. Don’t be
afraid to try new varieties – you will be in for a treat if you take a bite
out of a Pilot, a Cybele, or a Chantcler, or have a spoonful of home cooked
Reinette grise du Canada purée.
Apples and mushrooms foraged in the forest.
The old varieties of apples may not be so reliable commercially, but many
people cultivate them in domestic gardens. An organisation called the
Croqueurs de Pommes (‘the apple crunchers’) is on hand, with branches all over
France, to educate the public about how to grow and graft apple trees.
Pressing apples into juice at a village food fair.||
One reason there are so many apple orchards is because in the first half of
the 20th century wine making was not profitable. At the end of the
19th century, winemakers were desperate to solve the killer fungal
disease brought by the phylloxera root aphid. Within decades production was
back up to pre-War levels, due to the introduction of phylloxera resistant
root stock. However, consumption was slowly declining, there was an ongoing
labour shortage, and the wine being produced was mostly not very good.
Thousands of vines were grubbed up in the Touraine Loire Valley, with
government incentives for winemakers to change their production. The apple
orchards are a legacy of that farming transition.
Homegrown apples. Reine des reinettes on the left, Red Delicious on the
Favourite Locally Grown Varieties:
The Reinette grise du Canada is a large, ugly, malformed apple with typical
yellowy green russet skin with light brown scales all over. It is a variety
that originated in England around 1800, under the name Golden Russet, then was
introduced in Normandy to become much more popular in France than it is in
England. It keeps and cooks well, and is even nice for eating raw, so long as
you peel them. This apple is very fruity and aromatic, with a good balance of
sugar and acidity. It fluffs up a bit when cooked but retains its shape.
Homemade Tarte Tatin.
Reine des Reinettes is a soft sweet apple when eaten fresh, an old local
Touraine Loire Valley variety, yellow, streaked with red when it gets exposure
to the sun. It is widely regarded as indeed the queen of French cooking
apples, favoured by many big name chefs. They go soft and wrinkly quite
quickly in storage, so are mostly cooked.
An organic orchardist at a farmers market, with an old apple variety
that he has been unable to identify.
Golden Delicious, an American variety known simply as Goldens in France, is
ubiquitious, and being sweet and crisp, by far the most popular apple here.
After the Second World War men returning to their family farms in the Loire
Valley were actively encouraged by the government agronomists to plant Golden
Delicious orchards. The climate in the Loire Valley suits the variety
extremely well, and it is highly productive here. Outside of France they are
greeted with scorn and derision because of their pallid unappetising
appearance and their tendancy to go disgustingly floury if they are picked too
early and cold stored, as is normal for supermarket supply chains.
Fortunately, a fresh mature Golden Delicious is a completely different
creature to one purchased in the supermarket.
New season local apples come onto the market in September, and are good
quality until March.
Because apples have been grown in the Loire Valley for millenia, naturalised
trees can also be found in the forests. Usually the fruit on these ‘wild’
trees isn’t very good for eating raw, but they can be great for making apple
Apple purée is a pantry ingredient in French kitchens. Most people keep a jar
of it on hand to make simple desserts. Every supermarket sells family sized
jars of it.
The best known Loire Valley recipe using apples is Tarte Tatin. This popular
dessert is the benchmark for culinary apples in French minds. Apples that pulp
and/or are highly acidic are not popular. In France the supply of sugar has
historically been disrupted and unreliable, so French cooks prefer not to rely
on adding much sugar to desserts. Therefore, naturally sweet apples are more
popular. For tarte tatin you also need apples that retain their shape when
cooked, so varieties such as Reine de Reinette and Reinette grise du Canada
would be the choice for making this and many other traditional French apple
There seems to be no question that the Tatin sisters created the recipe in the
1880s and it became the signature dish of their hotel in Lamotte-Beuvron in
the Sologne (the area between Blois and Orléans). They called the dessert
Tarte Solognote. It seems to have been the famous Parisien restaurant Maxim's
who dubbed it Tarte Tatin in the 1930s.
The original version seems to have been made in a cast iron Dutch oven, in the
same way as one makes damper, by putting the pot in the coals and covering the
deep sided lid with coals too. The sisters used the still popular old
Tourangelle apple variety Reine des Reinettes , and the apples were not peeled
(I peel mine). The tart is traditionally served warm, unaccompanied by custard,
cream or icecream. The original recipe contains no spices or anything other than
apples, flour, butter and sugar (and that is how I make it).
Traditionally the tart is an upside down shortcake, which is made by putting a
layer of apple chunks on the base of a dish with plenty of butter and sugar to
form caramel. Then a simple pastry is laid over the top, the ensemble baked then
turned out so that the caramelly apple layer is uppermost for serving. (French
people look away now…) To be honest, if you are nervous about turning the hot
tart, there is no real need to do so. Just cut and flip each portion as you
place it in the serving bowls, or leave with the pastry on top. It will taste
the same either way.
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markets and more please visit the
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website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.
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UPDATE -- RESPONSES TO COMMENTS
Carolyn -- yes, we drive past that orchard often. It's owned and run by the Croqueurs des pommes, the association I mentioned in the blog post. They've tended to move their activities down our way more since their President lives in a village near to us.
Pré de la Forge -- I'm going on what the guy who planted our orchard told me the tree was.
Jean -- I think French people use apple compote as a quick and easy dessert.
chm -- Simon has never mentioned apple jam, so I assume he didn't encounter it in Korea.