An apple a day…

You might remember back in March we had a small debacle involving our orchard, my sheep and some not very stock proof fencing. Whilst we won’t really know for another season or so how well the fruit trees coped with being stripped naked by a swarm of hungry sheep with a sudden attack of the munchies and if the bridge grafting Tom performed has really saved their lives, it was nonetheless heartening to see apples in our orchard this year along with, for the first time, pears and plums (although we only had the princely sum of one quince from our two quince trees). Apples tend to fruit biennially and last year was a good year for a lot of the varieties we have so we weren’t expecting them to crop so heavily this year anyway. I believe you can encourage then to crop more steadily each year by doing more vigorous thinning of the baby fruits back in the summer but that’s a job too many given we only have the apples for our own use and pleasure – in a proper orchard the trees would be managed far more efficiently than we can. But then in a proper orchard sheep wouldn’t feature within a mile of the trees either…

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So all in all, a very respectable showing, well done trees, pat yourselves on the backs, thank you very muchly. I should have taken a picture of the trees a couple of weeks ago when the apples were all still on the trees but my mum has already been quite busy picking and packing away on some of the earlier varieties and the wind has brought down some of the earlies too which have been hoovered up by the geese and various other wild critters out there. I do love a crisp, juicy flavoursome apple – and boy do they have different flavours – and it’s nice to know that the skins are bursting with goodness and have no pesticides soaked into them. The skin is the best bit I think! True you do have to watch out for the odd bug still clinging to it but on the whole I’d rather accidentally ingest one of those than the chemicals commercial fruit orchards get doused with :0)

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We pick them carefully and store them in old mushroom crates lined with newspaper and label the varieties and when they’re ready to eat. Some are ready as soon as you pick them and go over very fast, others taste sour or are too hard when you pick them but after  month or two in store develop their flavour and juiciness. This means we can have tasty eating and cooking apples all winter usually. The windfalls and damaged/bird pecked fruits get added to the pile in the wheelbarrow and buckets to be crushed and pressed to make the apple juice we freeze for drinking over the next few months. You can make cider or wine from the juice too which is the natural way of preserving the juice but we don’t drink much alcohol apart from special occasions and I’m not that talented at home brewing although I have done this in the past with varied result; sometimes it’s wonderful and sometimes terrible and I’d rather just have plain delicious pure juice than risk my turning it into something that would double as disinfectant for sanitising the bathroom and unblocking the drains…

Eating apples don’t always make great juice – the balance of sugars and acid can be too much in favour of the sugar and make a sweet, bland juice. Cookers on the other hand are usually too sharp to eat raw (although this has never stopped me – but then my brothers and I used to like eating raw lemons as kids partly as a dare and partly just because we liked them). But crushed and juiced the acid and sugars balance out to make lovely tart refreshing juice and you can mix the blander sweeter juices with the sharp ones to make some really beautiful blends. So we have a mixture of trees, this is an Adam’s Pearmain which has such pretty little apples on it – like picture book apples or little hearts

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and cookers like Golden Noble, Bramley’s Seedling and this one which is my mum’s and my favourite Annie Elizabeth

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How can you not love a tree which churns out monster sized apples like this?!

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And they taste beautiful too. Poor old Annie suffered very badly in the sheep attack so we’ll probably take cuttings from her and graft the scions onto new rootstocks as an insurance policy in case the shock proves too much for her and she doesn’t survive the next year or so.

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The branches were drooping to the ground and are so large that they needed two old bread trays to take them all.

Apart from Adam’s Pearmain, all the trees fruits are now safely stored away in the root cellar I built 10 years ago – one day I will build a proper Orchard House in the orchard itself using the same straw bale construction as my own home as this should provide the ideal conditions for storing apples for months over the winter. For now they have to share a home with stored potatoes and other roots which is less than ideal as they need different conditions and you’re not really meant to store them in the same place. However needs must and we do have plenty of these…

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…so if a few over ripen and go to waste then it’s no great loss – they will just get fed to our very appreciative Large Black pig Petunia, apples are one of her very favourite things to eat and she really doesn’t mind the soft bits!

Other animals who like the apples are our geese that graze in the orchard. Unfortunately this means they get to the windfalls before we do and peck them quite badly but it’s all food for them and we have enough for out use anyway. Here they’re taking a nap after feasting on juicy apples – I think it’s made them quite sleepy! They do help to keep the grass down being grazing birds – there aren’t enough of them to do this completely so we do have to trim the orchard too (as clearly trimming it with sheep is a veeeeeery bad idea!!!) so perhaps a few crunchy apples is fair wages for this!

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I think I’ll have to make some Dorset Apple Cake later which is my favourite apple pudding, especially with a dollop of Greek Yoghurt on top and drizzled with honey from our hives! mmmmmm :0)

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