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Apple Days: preserving traditional orchards

PUBLISHED: 10:34 01 November 2016 | UPDATED: 10:34 01 November 2016

Some of the old varieties grown at Chorleywood (Andrew Bungard)

Some of the old varieties grown at Chorleywood (Andrew Bungard)

Andrew Bungard

It’s that fruitful time of year when trees are heavy with apples, pears and plums. Behind the walls of our traditional orchards, a love affair has been rekindled

One method of apple picking (PTES)One method of apple picking (PTES)

Apple Days came to fruition across the country after the charity Common Ground launched the first event of that name in Covent Garden in October 1990.

Common Ground has also inspired people to preserve traditional orchards and to plant new community orchards. This month in Hertfordshire, lovers of this windfall will be able to join together to celebrate all things apples, pears, plums and more.

If you’re wondering where your nearest orchard is, look no further than the whizzy, interactive community orchard map recently launched, after 10 years of delicate grafting, by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

Just some of the huge number of apple varieties - do you have a mystery one at home? (PTES)Just some of the huge number of apple varieties - do you have a mystery one at home? (PTES)

Steve Oram, orchard biodiversity officer at PTES, is keen to hear from anyone who knows of an orchard that hasn’t yet been mapped. Similarly, he is encouraging people to start their own orchards.

‘It’s as easy as planting five trees,’ says Steve. ‘Once you have five fruit trees, you have an orchard.’

Alison Rubens inspired the creation of Chorleywood Community Orchard in 2009 and seven years on the trees are fruiting.

Judging competition entries at Chorleywood Apple Day (Andrew Bungard)Judging competition entries at Chorleywood Apple Day (Andrew Bungard)

‘We’ve specialised in varieties local to our area,’ explains Alison. ‘If we don’t save them, the chances are they would die out.’

At Chorleywood, apple trees include Brownlees Russet, a variety introduced by the Hemel Hempstead nurseryman William Brownlees in 1848, and Faerie Queen, an apple raised at Ware Park in 1937. A cherry variety called Ronald’s Heart that is local to Hertfordshire and is nearly black with paler stripes, also grows here. Another relatively new arrival is the Codicote Community Orchard, which was planted in 1997 and is run by Mike Creasey.

‘Every village or town has an Orchard Road. But after the war, orchards were being grubbed out by the thousands,’ says Mike.

Apples and more at Chorleywood Apple Day (Andrew Bungard)Apples and more at Chorleywood Apple Day (Andrew Bungard)

If you do want to plant your own fruit trees, you would do well to consult the East of England Apples and Orchards Project, where you can choose from the wide selection of Hertfordshire fruit varieties or cultivars. Many of these came about thanks to Thomas Rivers, who developed the Conference pear and many other fruit varieties at the Rivers Nursery in Sawbridgeworth, which dates from 1725, now known as the Rivers Heritage Site and Orchard.

And if you happen to have an ancient mystery apple tree at the bottom of your garden, there’s a book you might want to put on your Christmas list. It’s by Michael Clark – artist, badger expert, and resident warden at Tewin Orchard. Beautifully illustrated, Apples: A Field Guide will help you to identify your fruits.

You can then get in touch with Steve Oram at the PTES and he’ll put them on the map.

Pressing

If you are lucky enough to have a bumper crop at home, thoughts might lead to juicing.

First stop is Apple Cottage Cider in Baldock. You can take your own apples along for juicing or even hire a press from owners Paul and Gayle Edwards. ‘We have a 12-litre press and a 230-litre press,’ explains Paul.

He makes his own apple cider and also makes perry. And it’s the good stuff. Apple Cottage Cider is a double holder of the North Herts Campaign for Real Ale Perry and Cider of the Year awards.

Visitors are welcome at Apple Cottage, but Paul explains that the licensing authorities were very cautious about hordes of people turning up at once, so you do need to make an appointment.

Wassailing

As our autumn fruits are harvested, pressed, fermented and drunk, it’s only natural to think about what we can do to help our orchards to thrive in the year to come. Time for wassailing.

This pagan tradition can still be enjoyed in the county. Shenley Park and the Rivers Orchard will both hold wassails on or around Twelfth Night in January. Rituals may include the crowning of a wassail queen or king and the new monarch dunking a piece of toast in some mulled cider before placing it in a tree to welcome benign spirits. If you fancy serenading an apple tree in an historical Hertfordshire orchard in January, warmed by spiced cider, it’s worth keeping an eye on the websites for both orchards. Or of course, you can always organise your own wassail.

Before January though, there are earlier dates to put in your diary. Plan to enjoy the wildlife havens of our very own Hertfordshire community – and traditional – orchards. Try your hand at apple archery or the longest peel contests. You may just go home inspired to plant your own orchard of Herts varieties. You need only five trees to make an orchard.

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