Apples and Cornkisters

Sunday 30 September 2012
The annual Apples & Cornkisters event at National Trust for Scotland's Pitmedden Gardens is something I have always wanted to go to but unfortunately it has always clashed with prior commitments.  But this year we got lucky.  I had been advised by a friend to get there early for the best choice and I'm glad we did as the sales tent was already heaving.  
Unfortunately we learned that this year has not been a good one for apples and pears with the harvest down by 80% due to a combination of poor summer, late frosts and lack of insects for pollination.  In 1845 the local minister recorded that the apples and pears from Pitmedden were 'superior to any in Scotland'.  Grown against granite walls, some over a century old, tons of fruit are hand picked each year.
I was still impressed with the sheer variety on offer.  Trade was brisk with may buyers having very specific requirements of varieties. We untilised our full quota of three bags and went for 1kg each of:
Pears - Conference.  Juicy but firm flesh. 
Desert Apples - Cornish Aromatic. Firm flesh, dry, good flavour with a hint of pineapple.
Cooking Apples - Arthur Turner.  Ideal for baked apples, needs little sugar.
In addition to the fruit there was also a selection of baked apple goods for sale. Crumbles, cobblers, pies, cakes, loaves and muffins.  A wide range of apples jellies too.  I opted for a jar of the Apple and Juniper reflecting my fondness for G&T.  I'll be making some of my own Spiced Apple Jelly in due course.
The marquee also contained a small selection of local producers and craftspeople.  I purchased some Banana Chutney from Isabellas Preserves in order to make one of the Taste of Angus recipes I picked up at The Forfar Meerkat.  Looking forward to trying out Hot Banana Chicken at some point this week.
Rapeseed Oil infused with Chilli and Chilli Jam were purchased by husband and boy from Ola Oils.  Clearly a hint that I need to get a move on and make a batch of my own chilli jam.
We are National Trust Members so also got access to the full gardens and museum of farming life under our family membership. Was really interested to see come of the conservation volunteers in the farmhouse cooking oatcakes over an open fire.  This is something that I have long wanted to try and was on the entry schedule for the Industrial Tent at Glenbervie Flower Show.
The ladies readily confessed that they were in no way bakers but were there in a purely voluntary capacity and their initial crumbly attempts were somewhat comedic.  However various visitors gave them advice throughout the day and by the time I was leaving they had mastered the technique.  I really must give it a go myself but need to source a suitable griddle.
No mention yet of the Cornkisters.  For the non doric speakers an explanation may be necessary   Unmarried male farm workers were accommodated in a simple room known as a chaumer or bothy.  A bed was provided and a kist (chest) contained all their possessions.  Before TV and radio provided entertainment it was self made in form of bothy songs or ballads.  Cornkisters are such songs that were sung whilst sitting on the Corn Kist.  Alas because we made the decision to come early for the apples we missed the Cornkisters that were the afternoon entertainment.  We did however take part in "The Great Apple Day Quiz" and learnt lots of fascinating facts.
So what to make with my harvest produce?  Earlier in the week I had picked up the October copy of the Asda Magazine and spied a recipe for Apple, Pear and Cinnamon Crumble with Hazelnut Praline topping.  Fate or what.
Almost ready for the oven
Hazelnut Praline
The end result was lovely but very, very sweet. Next time I'd cut down the quantity of sugar in the crumble and only make half the quantity of praline. I'd probably also add a splash of water to the fruit to encourage more juicyness.

I wonder where all the other fruit bought today at Pitmedden is now? It would be so interesting to know its variety of culinary outcomes.  Perhaps there's even some cider making in progress.  Now that's a thought for next year.


  1. We have been the past few years but didn't manage this year. In fact, it was one of my first ever blog posts -

    That crumble you made looks absolutely amazing!!!!

  2. Your Grandma Monearn used to have a girdle like that - she was a top notch oatcake maker. She used two boards to make them on, one was used to turn the oatcake over by placing one board on top of the other with the oatcake in between. The she would brush off the excess oatmeal before cutting and baking. She always finished them off by turning them on their edge and toasting by an open fire.

  3. What a wonderful event, you're right it looks right up my street, our apples and pears have been terrible this year, I have seen one pear on our tree which was laden last year.
    Ah well there's always next year. And that crumble looks wonderful. I love crumbles.


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