Season of change
In a year that’s been topsy-turvy to say the least, could autumn be the new spring?
Since I last sat down to write this column, it feels like the world has done a 360. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t mention the ‘C’ word in this issue but it’s hard to ignore when there’s an elephant of that size in the room (or on the page!).
Who can forget spring, usually so full of promise with its abundance of asparagus and strawberries, that instead, this year, blinded the world with bleakness, silently morphing into summer before we had chance to say Hollandaise. Newly masked, we emerged and now we’re teetering on the edge of autumn. Usually this is a time to hunker down, but instead, there’s a real buzz in the air. Restaurants, pubs and shops have welcomed us back and school children across the country are gearing up for their first term back in over six months. This year, there’s none of that dreaded ‘back to school’ feeling that September brings – we’re all raring to go, hoping to find a new sense of normality.
Maybe then, this year, autumn is the new spring. The season of hope and change. Certainly, from a local produce point of view, it’s one of our best times of the year. Usually, we’re all too busy worrying about the slow descent into winter to properly celebrate our autumn harvest, which leaves our fantastic fruit – the plums, apples and pears – rather impoverished in PR!
So, my thoughts are that we need to
rave more about our autumn fruit. After all, we do strawberry season with such thunder and noise; well this year, it’s the turn of the apples.
Apple orchards have long been associated with traditional Gloucestershire countryside, yet many old orchards with full-sized trees have disappeared. Along with them, many varieties of heritage apple – some that are only found in our county – have also disappeared. Thankfully though, we have a handful of local producers who are always hugely excited about their autumn crops and are not afraid to tell us.
If you’ve ever visited Stroud Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning, you can’t miss the Day’s Cottage apple stall. For many years, David Kaspar and Helen Brent-smith have been passionately encouraging visitors to explore the delights of their home-grown English apples. They grow over 200 varieties of apple, some on trees that are over 100 years old. Not only is this good for biodiversity (including creating habitat for the endangered Noble Chafer beetle), it also saves some of our native apples from becoming extinct. Day’s Cottage apples are good from August through to February but you can still enjoy each individual flavour all year round in the single variety apple juices, ciders and perries.
In Winchcombe, Martin Harrell of Hayles Fruit Farm is quietly confident that, after the warm spring, this year’s autumn crops will be full of flavour. Martin grows 12 varieties of traditional apple, which, he says were originally bred for flavour, unlike supermarket apples which tend to be bred for shelflife. For over ten years, he’s been using surplus crops to make single variety apple juice and ciders so you can enjoy your favourite apple every day of the year.
It may feel counter-intuitive to feel hope in autumn, but this year has already been turned on its head. So, I’m going to properly celebrate and seek out our local autumn fruit; after all, you know the saying, an apple a day...
Locally-owned company Warner’s Budgens have six stores in the area Bidford-on-avon, Broadway, Moretonin-marsh, Quedgeley, Tewkesbury and Winchcombe. More information at warnersbudgens.co.uk
Days Cottage: the Pitmaston Pineapple is a sweet little yellow apple with an unusual pineapple flavour. Or try the Ashmead’s Kernel, a russet apple bred in Gloucester in 1700 that’s full of flavour, crisp and juicy, and a great storer. Buy from Stroud Farmers’ Market or direct from Day’s Cottage in Brookthorpe, dayscottage.co.uk
Hayles Fruit Farm: one of the nicest apples is the first of the season, the Discovery. Don’t pick it too early – the flesh should be tinged with pink and the flavour intense. Follow that with a Spartan later in the season, with its deep red skin and crisp, sweet flesh. Buy from local farm shops or direct from Hayles Fruit Farm in Winchcombe, haylesfruitfarm.co.uk