If pappy, identikit supermarket fruit has left you despairing of apples, now is the time to unearth the character and flavour of apples with real pedigree. We've already had the first crop of Discovery apples (signalling the start of the English apple season), with more varieties to follow which will be at their sweet-scented best as we move into autumn. Expect names that almost make you want to click your heels together to salute their patriotism like Red Windsor and Worcester, or evoke Keats-inspired reveries, like St Edmunds Russett. Paul Ward at Hartley Lands Farm in Kent is our main grower, and he’s one of a dwindling number of fruit farmers who choose mainly traditional varieties over highly bred commercial crops. Instead of producing a soulless lump that survives industrial scale handling but leaves the customer with a mouthful of cotton wool, Paul’s apples drip with character and ruddy sweetness.
Unlikely though it sounds, romantic images of farm workers wandering among boughs drooping with perfumed fruit aren’t that far off the reality. Whereas conventionally farmed orchards are often managed by one man spraying the trees with chemicals, Paul’s organic groves are thronging with wildlife and the hum of work. His team mulch and cultivate the soil to keep the weeds down and the trees healthy; hard work it may be, silent and sterile from sprays it is not. Without pesticides, natural insect predators are crucial, so areas of the farm are left for nature to create rambling habitats for helpful beasts. There are crab apple and cherry trees dotted through the orchard too, as they work a bit like bee catnip, drawing more bees and other pollinators in than the apple trees would alone.
Come harvest time, the pickers gently twist the fruit from the trees one-by-one, and place them in their picking baskets to avoid bruising. Harvesting in the rain is not an option, as gripping a slippery apple leaves its mark. The extra work this creates is rewarded through fragrant fruitiness though, so as the apples we’ll be putting in your boxes change as the season progresses, take your time to get to know each little character that comes along.
soil association organic food festival, bristol, 3-4 sept
Come along, say hello and bring a friend – the more the merrier. We’ll be cooking up some seasonal samples on our stand, so don’t miss out.