This year I was to give a little talk at the orchard, and bring some Bramley-themed treats for the participants to take home as souvenirs. I settled on apple cake and small apple crumble pies (forgot to photo, oops), as well as a whole pie.
On the way to Nagano, the sky threatened rain and by the time we arrived in Obuse it was properly pouring down, just like we were in the UK (Obuse is pronounced o-bu-say by the way, rather than sounding like "abuse." Just in case you were wondering).
|View from the train, could be the UK or Japan :)|
Chef Ichimura's lunch at Hanaya was as fantastic and creative as it was last year - it's amazing what thoughtful Japanese chefs do with our humble apple pie/apple crumble fruit!
I was particularly struck by the sushi piece of the 3-bite starter. It was so soft and delicately flavoured.
After lunch we dodged a few puddles and went to find the tree that Celia-san (Great Granddaughter of Henry Merryweather, the first person to notice and begin selling Bramley apples in the UK in the late 1800s) planted on her trip to Obuse last year. The young tree appears to be doing very well, and is in a nice spot, visible from the restaurant.
From there to the orchard! The rain had let up a little and so we were able to pick our own fruits to take home. As we were leaving a heavy fog rolled in and that too felt brisk and British. I don't remember seeing fog in Tokyo - it's quite a world away being up in the hills of Nagano.
The talks were to be given in warmer and drier surroundings back at the apple packing plant.
First Arai-san, the gentleman responsible for bringing the Bramley to Japan officially over 20 years ago spoke of how apples of all varieties had been important in his life, and how it was a struggle initially to convince many apple growers in Japan to take a chance on the strange and sour British fruit. It takes a few years from the initial work and investment until the trees will bear fruit and so it's quite a commitment for the farmers to make.
Next one of those apple growers who did take the plunge, Oshima-san, talked about a year in the life of caring for the Bramleys in Japan, and how one year's crop can differ considerably to another. He'd also brought along a *huge* Bramley. I thought it might be the biggest in the world (that record was in 1997 to a 1.67kg beast), but it must certainly be the biggest in Japan. Amazing.
For my talk, I decided to have a few different sections - what Bramleys are to British people, and bit about the history - from the chance seedling growing from a pip planted by a little girl playing in her Nottinghamshire garden in 1809, to the involvement of Henry Merryweather, the extensive planting across the UK in the late 1800s, and the important nutritional role the Bramley (and all manner of home-grown fare) played during the wars - all going some way to explain how they have come to be such a widely loved and commonplace ingredient it is for the UK today.
I also talked about growing up with Bramley apple trees in my garden, and how when I saw ohanami on TV as a child, I thought that people in Japan were picnicking under apple trees.
Finally, I gave some tips on cooking with Bramleys, from the British home baking viewpoint - that we usually cook them down before adding them to pies, as they will cook to a puree anyway during baking, which leaves behind large cavities in your pie if you used the slices raw like for American and Dutch style apple pies.
At the end of the talk I shared the large British-style Bramley apple pie with the participants before they rushed to get the bus back to the station.
This year I was determined to also try visit the Iwasaki bakery, home to the famous Chelsea buns from the book I heard about on the tour last year. (See the end of this post for the story about the Canadian nurse and the Obuse Chelsea bun connection :) ).
Arai-san was kind enough to give me this monster of a Chelsea bun, and it made a very hearty breakfast the next morning. It was really good with the crunchy nuts on the bottom!
As I left for the day, look what I was given as a thank you for the talk! It's now in pride of place at the shop, at least until I work out what I want to make with it ;) Nyam!
|Ginny is pretty shocked at the size too|