As a resource for food and drink, the orchard brings with it a wide spectrum of opportunities. It’s not just about the fruit – I’ve found that you can use pretty much everything.
Blossom, leaves, branches; one can even grind the kernels from the stones of a certain kind of cherry to make Mahleb, a spice used in recipes from Greece through to the Middle East. Orchard cooking needn’t be just about apple pies and tarte tatins, although I have a great fondness for both.
Sunshine filtering through an orchard ©Getty
The crisp freshness of an apple works perfectly with shellfish such as oysters and scallops, while plums and cherries have a natural affinity with game. Quince, on the other hand, pairs well with the flavours of North Africa – Morocco in particular.
Here is a selection of six recipes taken from Stuart Ovenden’s The Orchard Cook: Recipes from Tree to Table.
Try making this easy sticky honey and mustard catherine wheel sausage with pears, cobnuts and celeriac mash.
Sausage and Pear ©Stuart Ovenden
It’s not just the name that makes this dish feel appropriate for a bonfire or firework party. The mix of sticky, sweet, savoury and a pop of heat from the mustard is exactly the kind of thing you want to be eating on a cold November night; fire blazing, scarves done up tightly and sparklers at the ready. If you want to up the ante on the spice front, a teaspoon of chilli flakes in the pan at the honey stage wouldn’t go amiss.
Mix oats, nuts, honey and oil, along with a few extras to make an energy-rich cereal or snack.
Orchard Granola ©Stuart Ovenden
I love making granola. I also love the fact that once the basic elements are in place (oats, nuts, honey and oil), I can pretty much free-style with the fruit additions. I’ve stuck to dried apples, raisins and cherries in this instance, but any dried fruit will work.
Bring good luck to next year’s harvest by making a wassail drink with friends and family.
Damson gin wassail ©Stuart Ovenden
The kids and I go wassailing every January without fail; it’s a fine evening of tradition, theatre and a hearty dose of paganism (which never goes amiss in my opinion). A torch-lit procession starts at the far-end of the village and makes its way towards the orchard; as we approach, pots and pans are banged and rattled to scare away evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the autumn. Toast soaked in wassail is hung on an apple tree as a gift to the spirits, wassail is sipped and there is singing and dancing.
This cheese, pastry and sweet quince dish is the perfect starter.
Quince and Camembert ©Stuart Ovenden
This is pretty much cheese-lovers nirvana; cutting open a baked camembert is one of those moments that compels a collective gasp around the table, before a quick clamour to find a suitable means of damming the tide of melted cheese. Roasted garlic cloves can be squeezed and spread onto toasts before diving in.
Enjoy this delicious lamb and quince sausage rolls recipe with mint and yoghurt dip.
Quince and lamb sausage rolls ©Stuart Ovenden
These sausage rolls are great for a picnic, or a somewhat snazzy lunchbox. Lamb and quince are natural partners, while a cool minty dip is a lovely contrast to the warmth and spicing of the sausage rolls.
This plum dessert is the perfect warming recipe for an autumn or winter’s day.
Greengage cobbler ©Stuart Ovenden
It’s a brief season for greengages, so it pays to make the most of them while they’re at their best. A bowl of emerald green Reine Claude greengages sitting on the kitchen table brightens up the greyest of days. They lose their colour a touch when cooked, but are rightly considered to be one of the finest dessert plums.
About the book
The Orchard Cook Recipes from tree to table
This book is a collection of recipes based around a year spent in a mixed fruit orchard, and while the seasonal emphasis naturally leans toward the Autumn months, it’s important to view orchard cooking as year-round pursuit. There are recipes for Spring, Summer and Winter included in the chapters; it feels only natural to want to spend as much time as possible in these beautiful, complex spaces.
Stuart Ovenden is the author of The Orchard Cook, £25, published by Clearview Books stuartovenden.com