Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Monday, 19 October 2009

Apple time

Tuesday is National Apple Day, apparently, and this weekend there was an Apple Festival at Brogdale Farm, the home of the National Fruit Collection.

Here over 2000 varieties of apples are grown, along with 500 varieties of pear, not to mention quinces and cherries, and the collection supports all sorts of serious research.

It's open to visit most of the year, but for the casual day-outer, the interest is either blossom or fruiting time.

For serious gardeners, there are opportunities to buy plants and seek expert (if rather brisk) advice:

"Is there anything I can do about the scab?"

"Yup. Spray".

To save time, there was an ID parade of trays of different apples marked with their names, for all those people with an old tree but no idea what variety it is.

And there was a large pick'n'mix tent of apples and pears for £2 a bag, of varieties I'd never heard of - not just apples (Norfolk Orange, Blue Pearmain, Murfitt's Seedling) but pears (Bergamotte de Strycker, Beurre de Beugny).

This being a Festival, the regular apple-focussed activities and tours of the fields were supplemented by talks and cookery demonstrations as well as other entertainments - food, fudge and craft stalls, a falconry display, a chance to try your hand at archery, the local classic car club display, and live bands while the miniature railway tootled back and forth behind the Egremont Russets.

The guided walk took us past trees loaded with fruit which we were allowed to taste (and pick samples): perfect scarlet or crimson apples like the pictures in children's books (and every other possible colour too), historical varieties from what was claimed to be a Roman variety (small, green, not very tasty and fruiting only every other year), to the Elizabethan costard (large, crimson, delicious, but fruiting only at the tip of each stem, so not commercially economic), and a range of flavours too, with some apples (supposedly) tasting of aniseed, raspberry, lemon or coffee flavours.

It's the names that capture the imagination. The limited range of supermarket offerings simply doesn't prepare you for a world in which you might find D'Arcy Spice tempting the Lady of Wemyss to a Fondante d'Automne, or Mrs. Phillimore having Great Expectations of William Crump, while Leonard Lush calls Scotch Bridget "Sweetie" (and she calls him "Fairy"). (Yes, those are all names of apples and pears).

Anyway, here's my haul from the pick-and-mix (and a few windfalls besides):

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