Paul Ward grows apples, pears and plums for us on his four farms in Kent. He started out over 17 years ago, buying his first orchard as a hobby. Since then, Paul’s business has grown to producing 700-800 tonnes of apples every year. About half of these go to us, to supply our regional farms.
Organic apple growing is not without its difficulties. Our damp, mild, British climate makes trees susceptible to fungal diseases that sap vigour and yield. Organic farming forbids the use of some sprays to prevent this, presenting a very real challenge to growers. This is why so few orchards remain in the UK; despite people’s professed enthusiasm for traditional varieties, the reality is that our eyes prefer the cosmetically-perfect specimens in the fruitbowl. The apples you’ll get from us might have the odd knot or gnarl, but they are grown for flavour and character.
We start the season with Discovery, a red-skinned fruit with crisp white flesh. Katy will be ready soon after; a beautiful dark crimson apple that has a light, gentle flavour typical of early varieties. Then come Red Windsor and Red Pippin with a stronger, Cox-like flavour. Look out also for Russets, with a distinctive dry flesh and balance of sweet and sharpness. Mid-season, try Spartan, a dark red-skinned, aromatic variety. We will also have some Bramleys through the season; the definitive English apple for cooking and baking.
Some of the early season varieties, particularly Discovery, are at their best for only about a week. As with all fruit, smell is a good indicator of flavour and ripeness. For the main varieties, ripening is about the conversion of starch to sugar; they get sweeter up to a point, then the texture dives and they lose moisture, becoming soft and woolly. As a rule, all English apples are best eaten as quickly as possible, freshly-plucked from the tree.