Continuing with our series on terroir–a concept explaining the connection between a particular food or drink product and a particular location–in the Basque Country, let’s take a look at the noble apple or sagar(ra) in Basque.
Although apple trees originated in Central Asia, they exist worldwide today and it has even been contended that they were the first trees to be specifically cultivated by humans. The huge variety of apples means that they can be cultivated in different climatic conditions and at different altitudes. In the year 7 CE, the Greek geographer Strabo (64 BCE-24 CE) wrote of the Basques as a race of apple eaters and (by definition) cider drinkers (fear not, we’ll devote a separate post to cider). And apples have had important mythological and even religious significance for many cultures down the centuries.
Specifically Basque apple varieties include Txalaka, Urtebi, Txori sagarra, Geza-mina, Aritza, and Boskantoi, but one usually stands out: the Errezil or Ibarbi(a) apple, named after the village of Errezil in the Urola Valley of Gipuzkoa. It is acidic in flavor and green-yellow in color with brown spots. It is medium in size and and kind of crushed shape, with a hard and rough skin, as explained here. Indeed, Errezil Apple Day is held every year in December, following the fall harvesting period. While the Errezil apple is obviously associated with the village it’s named after, it is also cultivated throughout the Basque Country.
A very traditional and simple recipe in the Basque Country is that of baked apples. Remove the apple cores, add a little sugar and butter inside the hollowed-out space, place them in a dish and bake in a preheated oven (medium-high, about 450ºF/180ºC) for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the apples. The apples are done when they’re caramelized and soft to the touch. Other options include sprinkling some cinnamon over the apples to begin with and/or adding a little honey instead of sugar. But remember, when it comes to cooking–and come to think of, many other things–the real Basque way is as simple as possible… let the main raw ingredient speak for itself!