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Apples

Perhaps I’m being partisan when I say that English apples are the best, and the best of the best are those which were on the tree a few moments ago.

When I was six, my family moved to a lovely, rather shabby 1930s house with a number of mature apple trees, some so mature they were frankly moribund. Each of us was assigned a tree. Dad had the majestic Bramley, Mum had an early type which never kept long, my brother had one which ripened next, my sister’s tree was a sort of golden delicious type, but never thrived, and mine was a Charles Ross, a glorious apple which was reminiscent of Cox, but which isn’t so fussy, and which keeps right up to Christmas. For some reason, Father Christmas used the same apples in the foot of our Christmas Stockings.

I planted my first apple tree when my husband and I lived in High Wycombe, bought in the sales and transported home in our Ford Cortina, tree head out of the window, my nerves in tatters. I tried to make it into an espalier against the fence, but we moved house before it came into fruition. In Wantage we planted a Family Apple tree with three different varieties, Spartan, Hubby’s favourite, Cox, which was lovely, and a cooker – Granadier, I think. I also planted apple trees on my allotment. Alas, we moved to Essex, and the next home owner cut down the family tree, but the trees on the allotment are still thriving, though too far away to benefit me now.

I planted a quince when we arrived in Essex. I figured that I could buy apples, but quince are hard to find. I didn’t know much abourt quince, so half-heartedly tried to espalier it. Quince are spawlers, and it resisted all attempts to keep it upright. Last year it was just beautiful, and laden, but I had to cut it back, which upset me. However, I did strike a cutting. Such a pity we’re only allowed dwarf trees on my new allotment or I would plant it there. I might just take it over there but keep it n a pot. This year I have just four quince from the old tree, but oh, the fragrance is divine.

My quince last year

My quince last year

My current garden is too cluttered to add apple trees, though I have tried in pots, including a Charles Ross, the same as I had as a child, but it’s not very productive as yet.

The trouble with growing up with apples is that the thought of buying apples at supermarket prices for supermarket quality is anathema. Worse, the varieties available are very limited, and apples like Cox are often a mockery of what a real Cox should be.  They don’t really look like Cox and they don’t really taste as a Cox should, to the extent that I wonder if they really are Cox. Perhaps it’s something to do with the soil.

When we moved here found one or two wilding trees to forage from, and a friend had an orchard which supplied our apple pie needs for a time. After acquiring my dehydrator, I wanted apples to dry, particularly as Beloved Husband loves dried apple. But not at supermarket prices because it’s not economical.

Apple peeler

Apple peeler

I bought some “horse apples” from a local farm shop, and these dried very well. Nothing “wrong” with them as apples, and I could process them with my apple peeling and slicing machine.  This cores, peels and slices in one action, and is based on an old Victorian design. I resented the goodness going out with the peel, and discovered that I can make the machine just slice and core. The unpeeled slices seem to dry just as well as peeled, and it doesn’t affect the eating quality.Apple rind. No sulphur, just apple

Every year a  “Pick Your own Apples” sign springs up on the B1022 just after Tiptree Heath, and every year I have intended to locate the PYO, but the signs are like mushrooms, there one day, gone the next. This year I finally got round to it and I’m so glad I did. I arrived at Daymens Hill Farm on the way back from dropping my daughter at work, rather too early, though I didn’t know that at the time. The sun was still low in the sky and there was a faint mist turning the light golden. Although the picking season was already a fortnight old the trees were still laden with apples. The pears were hanging down and glowing like baubles in the early morning light, and the grass was damp with dew. It gladdened my heart.

Mellow fruitfulness at Daymens Hill Farm

Mellow fruitfulness at Daymens Hill Farm

The idea is to grab a bucket and, carefully cupping the apples, detach them from the tree and nestle them in the bucket. To merely “pick” them would be disrespectful. The temptation was to fill several buckets because they looked so luscious, but I resisted, picking a few favourites like Spartan, Red Pippins, and proper Cox. There were also Crispins, a variety I haven’t seen for years, and several other traditional varieties.

The pears were gorgeous too, epicure pears you rarely see in the shops, as well as that stalward, the Conference.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The fruit was also good value for money when I came to pay for them.

We should, as a nation, be proud of our apple heritage. We should be picking our own from farms like this. But instead we buy apples from the supermarkets, often with air miles attached, or which may have been in cold storage for a long time. Why? Particularly at this time of year, why, when we have the glory of such orchards up and down the country? To taste an apple straight from the tree is one of life’s pleasures and yet so many of us miss out because we just can’t be bothered. And that includes myself. Fourteen years it took me to find this place. Fourteen years!

We should cherish what we have before we lose it.

~~~

The PYO is at Daymens Hill Farm, Grove Farm Road, Tolleshunt Major, Essex, CM9 8JZ, phone 01621 817479 – 815327 The card I have says 10.00am – 4.00pm daily. but I was told 10.00am – 2.00pm, so best check.

Have a look for local PYOs and check out October Apple days near you. The Hyde Hall apple day is on 18th & 19th October 2014

https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/hyde-hall/Articles/Hyde-Hall-Autumn-Festival

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The Dehydrator and Linden Tea

One of the things I have hankered after for a couple of years is a dehydrator, ever since I tried making fruit leather and it took a long time to dry in my oven. I decided the fan in the oven wasn’t designed to run for 12+ hours and a dehydrator was the way to go if I wanted to make leather again. I looked at cheap ones but they’re more suited to drying fruit than leather because the shelves stack up over the heater and fan. I needed one which had shelves, but they are far more expensive, quite an investment for something which I feared might be used just once a year for blackberry leather. I looked out for a second hand one, but they were also pricey, considering they were second hand, so in the end decided to have a new one, an Excalibre, the one I really wanted. Of course, having shelled out all that money I had to make good use of it. Being somewhat insomniac, I thought I would gather linden blossom for tea, which is reputed to be soporific. Like the nettles, the blossom doesn’t last long and last year I was a week or two too late to gather any, so this year I made a special effort. The first thing I noticed when going to pick the blossom was the silence. Where were all the bees? The trees should have been throbbing with their hum, and yet there were none. This is worrying.

Unfortunately there were a lot of pollen beetles. It took a fair bit of shaking and sorting to get rid of them.
I picked a carrier bag full, which took a good morning’s work, and dried the blossom out in my drier. The scent in the kitchen was wonderful, like honey. When it was dried the entire crop fitted into one 1lb honey jar. The resultant tea is mild and sweet, but there was astonishingly little of it considering the effort involved.

I found this to be a recurring theme this year – foraging is time consuming with little to show for the effort, yet I still feel it worthwhile because I enjoy the produce and it makes me feel more in touch with nature. It does mean that foraged food has a value far greater than stuff bought in the supermarket. Because of the comparative cheapness of food nowadays, I think we have lost touch with the actual value of food, which is why we have become so wasteful.

I also picked some young green lime leaves, intending to use them in a salad, but in the end I didn’t eat them because I had too much else to eat and couldn’t get past the feeling that these were tree leaves, not real food. Next year I will give them a go.

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