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The apple’s heritage is greater than any fruit on British soil, its uses so varied from delicious juices, purees, ciders and preserves, to crumbles and pies, or simply eaten straight off a tree, and can be stockpiled to see through the winter months. Each variety has been cultivated to enhance its different properties for different uses, and each has its own wonderful shape, texture and taste, its own balance of sweetness vs acidity, with touches of citrus, honey, spice, or licorice.
The apple orchard has been a quintessential scene in the British countryside for centuries. Studies show that apples were first brought to Britain by the Romans, but it was the Victorians who changed apple farming for us. Britain alone has developed over 2,500 varieties of apples over the years, all of which are held in the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale Farm near Faversham in Kent.
An apple tree can live for at least 100 years, and every orchard has its very own eco-system often integrating plants and wildlife such as bees and butterflies to help with pollination. Putting pigs to graze on the spoiled apples, and chickens to graze on insects in the grass surrounding trees helps break some of the unhealthy pest cycles whilst fertilising the soil.
British-grown apples are in abundance from September through to May, here are a few British apple varieties to enjoy this Autumn; Cox’s Orange Pippin, Evelina, Greensleeves, Cameo, Egremont Russet, The Core Blimey, Saturn, Chivers Delight, Bramley and Spartan… and a few more; Nonpareil, Winter Pomeroy, The Harvey, Golden Pippin and Winter Pearmain.
Our apple farmers and growers are continually experimenting with new varieties – developing hybrids and introducing apples from across the globe. The purpose is to create and cultivate apples that are well-suited to our climate, grow well with a long season, and satisfy consumer demands. It’s not a quick process however – trialling and testing usually takes around four years!
Apples in abundance
Apples will store for months in the right conditions, boxed up between layers of newspaper in a cellar, shed or garage. One easy way to use up an abundance of apples is to make delicious apple cider. Cider-making is a relatively easy process that you can undertake at home or in the garden with simple equipment, a juicer and strainer:
Handle the apples gently when checking for ripeness, twist and lift the apple until horizontal, a ripe apple will come away easily in your hand. Leave bruised and windfall apples, and those with signs of rot for the surrounding wildlife to enjoy. Firstly, clean your apples, then feed them into a juicer. Apple pulp will collect in one area, whilst the juice runs from the strainer. When the last amounts are straining, add dried yeast to a jug along with a little apple juice at room temperature to begin the fermentation process. 5g of dried yeast is enough for 5 gallons of juice. Leave the jug mixture for 30 minutes and then give it a good stir before pouring it into your demijohns. Finally, fill your demijohns nearly to the top with the apple juice and attach the airlocks. Leave the juice to ferment in a warm place for 3-4 weeks.
A compact tractor with a range of attachments can make a real difference to maintaining an orchard and harvesting fruit, see our blog Equipment picks for an orchard.