Celebrating this local tradition
As the autumn harvest begins so do the celebrations of the humble apple. This year’s Apple Day will see pressing, bobbing and the identification of new and old varieties. CLAIRE PITCHER uncovers what the county has in store
From Granny Smiths to Golden Delicious, there are over 2,000 varieties of apple and hundreds of these types are grown in Great Britain. Available to eat all year round, we were all told as children that ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Well, it wasn’t simply an old wives’ tale. Apples are very rich in antioxidants and dietary fibre; plus they are full of vitamins including A and C as well as K and B7 as well as being low in cholesterol.
The nation’s (now second favourite behind grapes) fruit has been grown in Britain since Roman times, the first mention by King Alfred in 885AD. For hundreds of years we’ve been cultivating our favourite varieties and each October since 1990 we’ve celebrated them all on Apple Day.
This year’s events take place on or around October 21 and there are plenty of ways to honor our apples. The group that first launched Apple Day in 1990, Common Ground, set the date aside in the hope apple lovers would come together not only as a celebration but also a demonstration of the varieties we are in danger of losing. Now an integral part of the calendar for many of the country’s villages, orchards and markets, activities are organised by the WI, National Trust Properties, Wildlife Trusts and schools and colleges across the land.
We have plenty of community orchards in Hampshire too, as well as those food producers who lovingly grow and harvest apples to bring to market as well our supermarkets. William Wolmer is managing director of Blackmoor Estate near Selborne, which has been growing fruit and fruit trees for nearly 100 years. “It’s one of only two remaining commercial ‘top fruit’ (that’s apples and pears) growers in Hampshire – the majority being grown in Kent and Herefordshire,” points out William. His role has him overseeing orchards, the fruit nursery and arable as well as some residential and commercial property lets. He’s the fourth generation of his family to do so.
“As well as traditional favourites like Cox’s, Egremont Russet and Bramley we grow a wide range of old and new apple varieties including familiar ones such as Gala and Braeburn and the less well known Red Windsor, Opal, Evelina and Norfolk Royal Russet. We also grow Conference, Concorde and Comice pears and seven varieties of cherries,” he says.
When harvest comes around each autumn work begins at Blackmoor at 7.30am each day. “All apples are carefully picked by hand to avoid bruising and put into large crates called ‘bins’. These are quickly moved into store. Some apples – such as early season Discovery – are best
eaten immediately while others – such as Cox’s, benefit from a period of storage where the starches turn to sugar meaning they are best eaten at Christmas,” William explains.
With all the hard work happening at the orchards and nursery, it’s surprising to discover that Blackmoor also manages to organise an annual Apple
Day. In fact, this is their 48th year of hosting an ‘Apple Tasting Day’. “We think that makes it the longest running Apple Day in the country,” states William. “My father had the bright idea to showcase English apple varieties in season and over the years it has become a hugely popular free rural event with craft fair and farmers’ market raising funds for local charities.” The date for this year’s event is Sunday, 14 October and will provide a rare opportunity for fruit enthusiasts to taste a wide variety of the old and new apple and pear varieties grown at the estate. You can try traditional favourites like Cox’s Orange Pippin and Norfolk Royal Russet as well as exciting new varieties like Opal and Rubens. There will also be apple ‘doctors’ on hand to help identify mystery apples and apple ailments. Plus there will be fruit trees and plants to buy at the nursery, horse and cart rides; cakes and teas; climbing wall; Morris dancing; and cider of course.
Blackmoor Estate isn’t the only place in the county where Applebased festivities are taking place:
This National Trust property near Romsey will be holding events throughout October in celebration of the harvest. From gathering fallen leaves to foraging apples, this autumnal themed occasion involves plenty of hands-on activities and the chance to learn more about the estate. nationaltrust.org.uk/ mottisfont
Find out how to make cider the old fashioned way on October 13 and 14 at the Annual Steam Pressing Weekend at New Forest Cider in Burley. This is a chance to see vintage cider presses in action, ranging from a ‘workman’ steam driven mobile press to the simpler hand operated twin screw press using straw as a filter. Then, of course, you can sample the finished product in the farm shop. The cider making starts at 11am until 4.30pm. newforestcider.co.uk
Apple Day in New Alresford takes place in and around the pretty St John’s Church on Saturday, 13 October. This free event, from midday to 5pm, will see the churchyard filled with visitors able to try and buy every type of apple-based produce. There’s also the chance to bring your apples to make your own juice using the on-site apple press. When you’re finished pressing, there will also be competitions to enter, family entertainment, food and fun games. Ring the Parish Office on 01962 733545.
Join Mr Chris Bird, M.Hort
(RHS) of Sparsholt College when he returns with some of his colleagues and former students for a day of historic apple wisdom at Houghton Lodge Gardens near Stockbridge. It’s all part of their event on Sunday, 30 September, celebrating their heritage apples. ‘Heritage Apples’ are varieties not available across today’s supermarkets and shops. They were in abundance around 80 years ago when apple orchards were on every corner and in most gardens, but sadly with the lack of manpower after both world wars, new farming techniques and more profitable uses of the land, the orchards were lost.
Between 11am and 4pm you may also like to visit their gardens to see over 32 varieties of apple trees, as well as pear, plum, fig and kiwi trees in the kitchen garden and the great espalier pear tree with a span of over 50-feet – possibly the longest in the country. Enjoy some Heritage Apple Cake in the tearooms before helping the little ones along the ‘Apple Trail’ to find out who stole the golden apple. Entry costs £6.50 for adults and £3 for children over three. houghtonlodge.co.uk
Hill Farm Orchards will be opening their gates throughout half term (20 to 28 October) to welcome families along to pick their own apples between 10am and 4pm. All they ask is that you bring your own bucket or bag. There will also be the farm’s very own award-winning juice to taste and buy. hillfarmorchards.co.uk
The Memorial Orchard is the perfect place to celebrate everything appley on Sunday, 21 October. From midday, both the orchard and the local community centre will be welcoming families and friends to enjoy free entertainment, music and stalls. Plus, there could even be some apple pressing.
ABOVE LEFT: William Wolmer, managing director at Blackmoor EstateABOVE RIGHT: Pick your own apples and sample Hill Farm’s iconic apple juice in SwanmoreLEFT: Cider has to be one of the best ways to enjoy apples
ABOVE: Sample heritage apples at Houghton Lodge Gardens