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Toffee apples and bonfire night

"the most divisive item of all, the toffee apple. Some may see them as a morally offensive and difficult-to-eat collision of antipathetic textures, but this is Bonfire Night and you can’t argue with tradition. Especially when ... they look so beautiful." Stuart Heritage - The Guardian

I know I've done bonfire night before, but when my Guardian foodie newsletter dropped into my email today, I saw s'mores mentioned in its list of bonfire night treats. Which, of course, was a coincidence thing - having done s'mores on Tuesday, but it also made made think that American traditions were once again sneaking into English ones. Also somewhat distressingly listed amongst their top ten bonfire treats were chilli con carne and pumpkin soup, toasted marshmallows - more American than English I think and a curious cross between America and France - Campfire crescent dogs - frankfurters in a sort of croissant. Not that I have anything against any of these wonderful things, but they are fundamentally American and nothing to do with Guy Fawkes. But then as the Guardian says:

"Bonfire food has only three defining principles. It needs to be warming. It needs to be seasonal. And, most of all, it needs to be easy to eat standing up, ideally while wearing mittens" Stuart Heritage - The Guardian

There was also a middle-eastern influenced dish of baked sausages and harissa tomatoes - well Yotam Ottolenghi is one of their columnists. On the plus side I guess it shows how multicultural Britain's bonfire night has become. No curry though.

So I was a bit reassured to see that the other bonfire traditions listed included toffee apples. Mind you I don't really remember toffee apples on bonfire night. Where I remember toffee apples from is from the fairs that used to pop up on some open land every now and then. Do these still happen I wonder? In France I went to a few too, but there the fairground treat was gingerbread.

To be honest I was never a real fan of the toffee apple. Like many kids I would lick the toffee off and take perhaps one bite of the apple before throwing it away. I was not a huge fan of apples as a child, although now I'm thing it might have just been when covered in toffee. Toffee apples were difficult to eat - to crack your way through that outer shell and then be confronted by a completely different texture - tending to mushy - and taste. Now caramel and apple - sure, but hard toffee - not so much. But as Stuart Heritage says, one was sucked in by their appearance - to a child it perhaps wasn't beauty - more a novelty thing - the stick poking out of the top and the shininess. I don't remember them being red though.

The origin legend for toffee apples is that an American candy maker, William W. Kolb was messing around with a cinnamon flavoured, red coloured toffee whilst preparing for Christmas. He thought to dip an apple in it and displayed it in his window. Instant hit. This was in 1908. I cannot, however, believe that toffee apples aren't much older than that. To me they are somehow ancient, magic, witchlike even, and definitely associated with festivals. But so far I have not found any reference to this kind of thing, other than the fact that November is apple harvest time, so maybe this time the Americans really did invent them. It's not a really unusual thing to do though is it - to dip an apple in toffee? Surely somebody thought of that way, way back. And how it came to be associated with bonfire night I have no idea. Maybe it's just that thing about being easy to eat standing up with mittens on.

Felicity Cloake and also the BBC have recipes, with both versions looking much the same - not red - and rolled in various toppings. The main things to remember are that the apples should not be too big, or else you get very little toffee and lots of apple. And maybe that's why I didn't like them all that much because I don't remember tiny apples, or a thick layer of toffee come to that. You are supposed to dip the apples in the toffee twice. But then kids like big things don't they? The apples should not be waxed or the toffee won't stick, so if you have waxed apples you should first scrub them hard with hot water. The toppings you roll them in can be almost anything. Just not chocolate - it will melt and slide off. And let's remember to be healthy:

"Nowadays it's about finding the tastiest variety of apple and avoiding food colouring." Blanche Vaughan - The Guardian

There is a bonus to making toffee apples though - cinder toffee. Below we have the traditional version on the left, courtesy of Felicity Cloake:

"Make any leftovers into cinder toffee by whisking a half-teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into the pan, pour the mix into another lined tray and leave to cool and set." Felicity Cloake

Or Date cinder toffee from Tamal Ray which is made with date syrup rather than the usual sugar. I assume it's called cinder toffee because of the relationship with bonfire night - it's a kind of honeycomb sweet. Much nicer than toffee apples.

There are lots of desserts out there with toffee apple in the title. These Toffee apple buns from Liam Charles are an example but there is little resemblance to toffee apples with any of them. They are just caramel and apples in some shape or form - a wonderful combination I have to say, with Tarte Tatin as the prime example.

Of course, here in Australia on November 5th it is definitely not bonfire night. We are almost into the no fires outside period of the year. But in this household we remember November 5th as our younger son's wedding anniversary. How clever of him to get married on a day for which we could recite with some meaning: 'remember, remember the 5th of November'. But maybe it was for his benefit. Like us getting married on my husband's sister's birthday - so that he would remember. Cynical? Well it does mean they remember. And thanks to Dan, he and his wife were able to actually dine out in town at a swish French restaurant.


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