James Martin learned a lot on location for his latest TV venture. The Ryedale-born chef and star of BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen takes on the challenge of promoting the English apple in a new series on heritage food featuring the country’s leading chefs.

In his episode of The Great British Food Revival – to be broadcast on Wednesday – James reports on the plight of the humble apple.

He admits he was surprised by how English apples were undervalued and under-used.

“We used to have 1,500 different types; now we just have 500 left. I reckon most people could name four of them,” said the 38-year-old chef, who trained at catering college in Scarborough and famously first cooked in the kitchens of Castle Howard.

“We visit different orchards; one that has been there since the 1800s and an orchard that produces apples for supermarkets,” said James, who has just opened his first restaurant in ten years at the Alea Casino in Leeds’ Clarence Dock, called The Leeds Kitchen.

James said consumers today preferred sweeter apples and expected them to look perfect. But while making the programme, James found some of the best-tasting varieties were far from picture perfect.

“Bramleys in the supermarket didn’t taste as good as those from the apple orchard from the 1850s,” he said. “These had gnarled bits and were much smaller, and looked more like a quince. They were also lighter in colour, more yellow, and marked with indents and flaws.”

He said consumers could reverse the demise of the English apple by looking for UK apples in the supermarket. “Sixty per cent of apples are imported and that is ridiculous,” said James.

The Yorkshire chef cooks up some recipes using English apples on next week’s show, including roast pork with bramley apple, and an old-fashioned apple charlotte.

Recipes from the series, which also stars Ainsley Harriott and Gary Rhodes, are included in a new cookbook to accompany the programme.

We persuaded James to give us a sneak preview of his roast belly pork recipe for you to try at home.

• Catch James Martin on The Great British Food Revival on Wednesday, BBC Two, at 8pm.

• The Great British Food Revival cookbook is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced at £20.


James Martin’s slow roast belly of pork with spiced apple and cider sauce and mashed potatoes.

Serves 4-6


1.3kg pork belly, boned
salt and pepper
10 sage leaves, 6 whole and 4 chopped
1 Bramley apple, peeled, cored and finely grated
3 onions, sliced
splash of artisan cider, medium sweet

Apple sauce
500g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
30g butter
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp artisan cider, medium sweet
¼ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
¼ ground cinnamon
¼ tsp black pepper
30g soft dark brown sugar

900g Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and quartered
120ml double cream
100g unsalted butter, cubed
salt and pepper
nutmeg, freshly grated

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas 4. Score the pork belly skin with a sharp knife, making scores 1cm apart. Place the belly skin-side down, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the six whole sage leaves and the grated apple on to the meat. Roll up the belly and secure with string. Arrange the onion in the bottom of a roasting tray and scatter over the chopped sage leaves.

Splash in some cider, place the meat on top and put in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2 and leave to roast for a further three hours. Once it is cooked and tender, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the apple chunks into a saucepan with the butter, water, cider and spices. Cover the pan and cook over a medium heat until the apples are soft enough to beat into a puree. Add the sugar and stir through. Taste, and add more sugar if necessary. Set aside until you are ready to serve.

About 40–45 minutes before the pork has finished, make the mash. Place the potatoes in cold salted water and bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes until tender, then drain. Put a lid on the saucepan and shake vigorously to break up the potatoes. Gradually add the cream and butter while mashing the potatoes. Season to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Serve with slices of roast pork and apple sauce.