Orchards are swelling with ripe, fragrant fruit. It’s time to celebrate English apple season and rediscover some traditional varieties.
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.
Order apples online.
Strawberries are a traditional sight at the start of the UK summer and on a sunny Tuesday in mid-June we took a trip to our fields in Devon to take some photos of them being picked.
Strawberries will usually be ready from late May to mid July but the timing has to be right. If they have a little green on them they will be able to ripen in the punnet, but if they are too green they can’t. If they’re too red, they don’t keep for long, even in the fridge.
For something different, try our recipe for strawberries in balsamic vinegar and orange juice.
Thanks to the 50 or so of you who responded to my musings on whether it would be a good idea to grow at least some of our strawberries under tunnels to protect them from the weather and consequent losses (newsletter of 14th June.) The original post is here.
There was a (very) small majority who felt that the eyesore was justified by benefit but is was a close thing. My views have changed over the years from being very anti tunnels to thinking that they are justified for intensive crops like strawberries. We will do some costings to check that it makes economical sense and the final decision will lie with our suppliers; in Devon that, means John, the farm manager. If it works economically we will not discourage it as we have in the past.
Responding to a few specific points raised in the responses
- An acre (originally defined as the area that one man could plough with one horse in a day) is 4000 square metres; 15 time the paying area of a tennis court or just over half the area of a premier league football pitch. So to supply all our 60,000 customers with strawberries would require about 8 acres of tunnels or about 5 football pitches.
- Extending the season; there was an over whelming majority who felt that tunnels were not justified to extend the season. Most people were happy to have a relatively short “natural season”. Tunnels can extend the season but this would not be our motivation; we and you seem perfectly happy with it as it is.
- The plastic lasts 3 to five years and would be recycled after use
- The plastic is usually clear and would appear white but some people have successfully used green. I am not convinced this is an aesthetic benefit.
- On flavour: My views have changed from a prejudice against tunnels as promoting lush growth and reducing light levels and therefore flavour. In practice we find that the best flavour comes from the plants with the best growing conditions. We often get unpleasant off flavours when plants suffer stress. I suspect that on average the fruit would be better from under tunnels.
Hope that is interesting