A taste of heritage apples

With Apple Day approaching, I’ve been out to Snowshill Manor to find out about their heritage apples.

It’s the names as much as the flavour and sense of history that appeals to me about heritage apples. ‘Hoary Morning’, ‘Cat’s Head’, ‘Cow Apple’, somehow, they all seem so much more interesting than a mere ‘Granny Smith’.

Yet, few, if any, ever find their way to supermarket shelves and often the only chance you’ll have to sample them is at a specialist event.

heritage apples
Who could resist an apple called ‘Hoary Morning’

Snowshill Manor has been growing heritage apples for many years; collector Charles Wade is known to have had an orchard at the Cotswold manor and it was replanted with more than 50 different apples between 1994 and 2001.

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Snowshill Manor is celebrating harvest this month

“There aren’t any lists so apples that were interesting, unusual, old and rare were chosen,” explains Vicky Cody, who runs the garden at the National Trust property.

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Snowshill grows more than 50 varieties of apple

The result is an eclectic mix of eaters and cookers with some from the Gloucestershire area and others from further afield.

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The ‘Cow Apple’ was found on a Gloucestershire farm

Among the local varieties are the wonderfully named ‘Cow Apple’, so called because the seedling was found growing in a cow pat on a Gloucestershire farm. It’s a general purpose apple that is particularly good for mincemeat as it keeps moist when in the jar.

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Ashmead’s Kernel has a hint of peardrops

Then there’s ‘Severn Bank’ a sharp-flavoured Gloucester apple that was first recorded in 1884; ‘Gloucester Royal’, a sweet eating variety from 1930; and ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’, another local fruit dating from around 1700, with a peardrop flavour.

“If you like a russet, it’s got that sharp flavour. It’s delicious,” says Vicky.

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‘Pitmaston Pineapple’ is another with an unusual flavour

Another with an unusual flavour is ‘Pitmaston Pineapple’, which as the name suggests has a hint of pineapple. ‘Egremont Russet’, which was first recorded in 1872, has a rich, nutty flavour, while ‘Devonshire Quarrendon’ has a slight taste of strawberry.

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‘Devonshire Quarrendon’ is said to taste of strawberry

One of the oldest varieties grown at Snowshill is ‘Court Pendu Platt, which is believed to be Roman in origin and first recorded in about 1613. Meanwhile, ‘Flower of Kent’ is said to be the apple that gave Newton the idea of gravity.

A more recent variety is ‘Discovery’, an August fruiting apple and one that I grow. It has superb flavour and intense white flesh but doesn’t keep and needs eating fresh-picked.

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‘Cat’s Head’ is an old cooking variety

And you shouldn’t go by looks alone. ‘Jenny Lind’ doesn’t seem very appealing but has a fabulous flavour.

“I was very surprised when I tried it. She’s a beauty.”

When it comes to growing, Vicky says heritage apples are no more difficult than modern varieties. She recommends planting in October or November or waiting until February or March.

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Flowers and veg make a harvest display

Dig a good-sized hole and put in some well-rotted manure or good compost. Firm the tree in well and add a short stake, set at an angle, allowing the top of the tree to move slightly in the wind, which will encourage better roots.

“As it grows, keep checking the tree tie to make sure it’s not rubbing.”

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The cow byre is the ideal setting for the apple display

You’re unlikely to get a crop until the tree is a few years old but then you can enjoy your own taste of history.

During October, Snowshill Manor displays fruit from its heritage apples in the old cow byre and there is fruit for sale.

There are also weekend demonstrations of crafts, including making bee skeps and candle-making.

For more information, visit the website.

Celebrate autumn

Two of the Cotswolds’ popular gardens offer the chance to celebrate autumn this weekend with their last big events of the 2016 season.

Colesbourne Park and Painswick Rococo Garden are both better known for their snowdrop displays but each has plenty to offer at this time of year as well.

At Colesbourne there’s a rare chance to see the arboretum and enjoy the autumn colour spectacle on Friday and Saturday, while from Friday to Sunday, the Rococo Garden will be showing off its home-grown produce and explaining how to get the most out of the harvest.

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Squash are among the homegrown crops at Rococo

Among the trees

Colesbourne’s arboretum was started by Victorian plant-hunter Henry John Elwes and has been added to by his great-grandson Sir Henry Elwes.

It now numbers around 300 trees, with six registered as the largest of their variety in the UK and some 120 years old.

“This is very much a plantsman’s collection of trees from around the world,” said Sir Henry. “The arboretum was started by and is still managed by the Elwes family.”

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Colesbourne’s unusual blue lake

The rest of the 10-acre garden will also be open with woodland walks and views across the lake, which is believed to get its unusual blue colour from lime.

Learn about apples

At the Rococo Garden, apples and pumpkins are just some of the produce on show as the historic garden encourages visitors to celebrate autumn.

On National Apple Day this Friday, there is a children’s Apple Activity Day with the chance to learn how to cook with apples, bug-hunting and apple games.

The apple theme continues on Saturday and Sunday with talks by Martin Hayes on orchards and how to prune trees. The Gloucestershire Orchard Trust is supplying information about traditional local varieties and there will be demonstrations of rural skills, apple-pressing and wreath-making.

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Learn more about apples at Painswick Rococo Garden

And if you’ve got a mystery apple tree in your garden, you can take in the fruit for identification by Martin on Sunday.

“It’s an opportunity to find out what to do with autumn produce and the last chance to see the garden before we close for the year,” says garden director Dominic Hamilton.

Painswick Rococo Garden’s Apple Activity Day for children is on Friday October 21 from 10.15-3pm and costs £7.50. Book online at The Rococo Garden or call 01452 813204.

The Autumn Festival is on Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, from 10.30am to 3pm. The 2016 season ends on October 31. For more details, visit The Rococo Garden

Colesbourne Park is open on Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, from 12.45pm with optional guided tours led by Sir Henry and head gardener Arthur Cole. Admission is £5, to include a cup of tea. For more information, see Colesbourne Park

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Get a taste for history

There’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly picked apple, one that hasn’t been ferried miles and then sat on a supermarket shelf. Growing your own also means the chance to savour different varieties rather than just the commonplace Granny Smith or Braeburn.

In Gloucestershire alone there are 106 different apples and, thanks to work by the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, many of these are now available to gardeners. 

One grower who has been promoting these ‘heritage’ varieties is Rob Watkins, who specialises in old varieties of apple, along with perry pears and plums. 

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Rob Watkins grows a range of heritage varieties

He launched Lodge Farm Trees 15 years ago when he gave up milking at his Rockhampton farm. Every year he raises around 1,000 trees with about 40 different apples and 20 perry pears at any one time. 

“At some point I’ve grown all of the apple varieties,” says Rob, who is a Trust committee member. 

Among the old apple varieties are ‘Margaret’, an early cropping, sweet, red dessert apple, ‘Severn Bank’, a dual purpose eater and cooker, and ‘Hens Turds’, a cider apple from Rodley. 

‘Rose of Ciren’ is another Gloucestershire variety and there is the delightfully named ‘Jackets and Waistcoats’, also known as ‘Jackets and Petticoats’, which comes from Ashleworth. 

“It’s a nice apple with a zingy taste,” says Rob, who also grows Christmas trees after collaborating for some years with neighbouring Mount Pleasant Trees. 

Some apples, such as the dual purpose ‘Arlingham Schoolboys’, have been saved from near extinction as the original trees have long gone and the variety lives on only through grafted trees grown from them. Some of these new generation trees have now been planted back in the village. 

Perry pears, which are found across the Three Counties, include the ‘Christmas Pear’, ‘Yellow Huffcap’ and ‘Merry Legs’, though whether the name has anything to do with the effect of the perry is unclear. 

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The ‘Worcester Black’ pear appears on the city’s coat of arms

The trees are grown on rootstocks that Rob buys in as two-year trees and plants out in January; these are used to determine the size and vigour of the mature tree. 

Budding starts in July using that year’s growth, some taken from his trees – he has planted an orchard of old varieties – the rest from trees across the county, including the Trust’s ‘mother orchard’. 

All the leaves are trimmed off the cutting, leaving a small ‘handle’ on the bottom one and a 45 degree cut is made behind a bud. This is then inserted into a similar slot in the rootstock behind a bud and the whole thing is bound together with special tape. Three weeks later the two should be growing as one tree. 

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A piece of the trimmed leaf is left

The following spring, Rob cuts the rootstock off to just above the graft, leaving the heritage variety as the leader. 

“In the first year the rootstock will shoot out of the bottom and I have to trim it off several times during the growing season.” 

Trees are sold bare-rooted from mid-November to March and a mini-digger is brought in to lift them to ensure a good root ball on each tree. They are then heeled into a bed of composted bark ready for sale. 

And Rob’s favourite? It’s the well-known ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’, which originates from Gloucester and dates back to 1700.

For more information, visit www.lodgefarmtrees.co.uk

Gloucestershire Orchard Trust: www.gloucestershireorchardtrust.org.uk

Planting tips

When it comes to planting, the process is simple. Choose a good, sunny site, that doesn’t get waterlogged and don’t replant where there’s been a fruit tree before; Christmas trees are used as a rotation crop at the farm. 

Dig a hole big enough to take the root ball. Rob doesn’t put compost or manure in as “It will act like a sump and the roots don’t like it.” Instead, he prefers to mulch well after planting. 

A stake may be necessary, depending on the size of the tree and the area around the tree should be kept weed-free. He also recommends fitting a guard if you have rabbits.