Fruits were one of the most characteristic features of historic Isle of Wight food, with many distinctive varieties being put to all sorts of purposes including flavouring spirits and being baked into some of the Island’s most famous pies and puddings.
The Island was also home to a number of unusual types of fruits, including chequers, the sharp-tasting fruit of the wild service tree (sorbus torminalis). They grew wild on the north side of the Island, especially around Quarr, Firestone and Brock’s Copse, near Whippingham. The brown, dotted fruits, which locals called ‘sorbus berries’, ripened in October and November, and were sold at Ryde, tied up in small bunches.
The Isle of Wight’s southerly location, as well as the Undercliff’s warm microclimate also meant that a number of species native to Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean could thrive too. The Empress of Austria remarked on the pomegranates she saw growing whilst staying at Steephill Castle, near Ventnor in 1874, and figs, quinces and mulberries weren’t uncommon either.
However, of all the fruits growing on the Island, apples were no doubt the most useful and most commonly used. Crab apples grew wild in many parts and orchards flourished where the soil was clay. The Island even had its very own variety of apple, known as the Isle of Wight Pippin, an orange-coloured apple, supposedly first brought over from Normandy.
Apples were used for cider, ‘apple puddens’ and also ‘apple stucklens’ – a small pastry filled with chopped apples and baked without a dish. They were similar to an apple turnover but small, flat and semicircular in shape. The apples were cooked, sliced and sprinkled with sugar before being placed on a circle of pastry which was folded over and sealed, so it resembled a small Cornish pasty. Local author Maxwell Gray (1846 – 1923) mentioned these pastries in a few of her novels, describing how they were often taken into the fields by farmworkers at harvest time.
- 375 g shortcrust pastry
- 3 medium apples (sliced, peeled and cored)
- 75 g of light brown sugar or golden caster sugar
- 25 g of unsalted butter
- The zest of a lemon
- Cinnamon (to taste (optional))
- Whole milk for glazing
- Melt the butter in a saucepan before adding the sliced apple, lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of water. Cook for around 5 minutes, or until the apple has softened.
- Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface until it’s half a centimetre in thickness. Using the rim of a glass or a circular pastry cutter, cut out as many circles as you can from the pastry.
- Place just under half a tablespoon of the apple mixture on one side of each pastry circle, leaving a border around the edge. Sprinkle the apple with 1⁄2 tsp of golden caster sugar or light brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon.
- Brush the border with milk then bring the empty side of the pastry over the filled side and press the edges together. Crimp the edge for a more decorative finish. Cut two small slits on the top of the stucklen for steam to escape and transfer them to a baking sheet or tin, lined with baking paper.
- Brush each stucklen with whole milk to glaze and sprinkle over any remaining sugar.
- Bake at 180°C until golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack before serving.
To find out more about apple stucklens and other lost Isle of Wight foods, see James Rayner’s latest book Historic Isle of Wight Food, available from shops across the Island including It’s About Thyme in Shanklin, Medina Books in Cowes and The Little Nook in Newport, as well as online from wightoriginals.com