The first of our apple harvest starts in late August, but it isn’t until mid-October that the best of the crop is ready. We grow apples for three purposes: desert fruit, cooking apples and for juice. Juice is the least labour intensive and so in a busy garden this tends to be how most of our fruit is used. The ancient old trees we have inherited are so big that it is not practical to thin fruit earlier in the season; this results in huge quantities of small, relatively low quality apples. The best way we have found to deal with these is to simply place a sheet under the tree and shake the fruit down. Getting the timing right for this is important for best results. The fruit needs to be perfectly ripe and just ready to drop from the tree, but we don’t want to leave it too late and lose the crop as windfalls. We always take great care to keep the fruit clean and undamaged and never juice anything that doesn’t look appetising to eat. Once all the fruit is gathered up we take it to a local cider maker who can press, bottle and pasteurise for us. Last year we produced 700l, which kept us supplied for breakfast for about six months. We have many old varieties in our orchard most of which are: Edgemont Russet, Spartan, Blenheim Orange and Laxton Superb, which all blend to make a very pleasant sweet juice.
To secure the life of the orchard we decided to plant a new generation of trees about four years ago, and this year is the first time they have given us a crop worth speaking of. We planted about fifty new trees and with juice making in mind most of the varieties were Brambly Seedling and Howgate Wonder. These trees should allow us to increase production, and to make an alternative slightly sharper juice. Howgate Wonder is a particularly good juicing apple, which can reach enormous sizes. It also cooks rather well, holding its shape putting it alongside Brambly and Blenheim Orange on the list of varieties Head Chef George likes us to store for his kitchen.
In the kitchen garden, we grow our dessert fruit on restricted forms such as espaliers and step overs. This is the art of growing the perfect apple and by summer pruning, fruit thinning, feeding and watering we might get something close. We never want to have to spray our fruit and so have selected varieties with good disease resistance and a range of seasons to give us a long harvest. Over the last five years we have planted over twenty varieties. Sun Rise is probably my favourite early and Red Devil has also proven itself a beautifully flavoured and attractive apple. Best of all though has to be Rajka, a relatively modern apple from the Czech Republic. It is a beautiful deep red and will stay on the tree until the end of October developing the most wonderfully sweet juicy flavour an apple can have.