Have you ever wondered how a chef knows which cultivars of fruit or veg are best suited to his or her dishes? There are a handful of potatoes that are well known to be excellent for a particular use, be it baking, roasting, chipping, mashing, boiling etc, but when it comes to, say, apples, we tend to go either for a cooker or dessert variety.
Here at Wisley we have around 700 different apple cultivars and 175 different pears alone! So how do you know which one to select for a particular purpose?
Last week we had a bit of a private tasting session. Distinguished chef Raymond Blanc from Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons http://www.manoir.com/web/olem/olem_a2a_home.jsp joined us, along with some of his team including our former colleague Jonathan Keyte, for some taste testing. Apples, pears, raspberries and figs were on the menu. These were all tasted raw here and Raymond took away more for cooking in various ways. His aim is to determine which cultivars are best for various dishes such as pies, jams, crumbles, and how much sugar is optimum per cultivar (although this can be down to personal taste), or how much acid (in the form of lemon juice) might be best.
For the sake of both gardeners and cooks this is really interesting stuff. Take apples for example: cooking apples breakdown in cooking whereas dessert apples remain harder. But it is the acidity of the flesh that affects this, and the addition of sugar and lemon juice can affect the degree to which this happens. Because apples loose both water and acidity in storage the age of the fruit might also affect its cooking qualities.
We hope the knowledge we gain from this will help us to recommend particular varieties of fruit suited to different culinary uses.