Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome George and his wife Sarah to the Parish Room where 42 people, mostly members, came along to the second event of our new season, which coincidentally was on “Apple Day” - they were not to be disappointed.
George began his talk (with Sarah orchestrating the slide show) by telling us what an orchard was - somewhat surprisingly just a piece of land with five or more fruit trees on it according to the official DEFRA definition - and then described the different types of orchards. These range in size from large acreage commercial orchards with their limited range of dwarf root stock trees planted close together, to long established low density large root stock traditional orchards and then on to the recently introduced Community orchards, which exist primarily to ensure continuing survival of heritage fruit trees that are not grown commercially.
Commercial orchards are far more mechanised than previously, as all pruning and picking can be done from ground level, whereas traditional orchards comprise trees that may be 30 feet tall, necessitating pruning and picking from precariously tall ladders, so all tree work is done by hand.
George established his own small commercial orchard business in December 2004 on some 4.5 acres in Monks Eleigh, growing traditional varieties of English apple with an emphasis on those raised in Suffolk, his aim being to help preserve old varieties by growing and selling to a wider clientele as most are not available in the shops. He also planted a plum orchard with some unusual varieties, including Coe's Golden Drop, a handsome dessert plum raised in Suffolk in late C18th. Produce is marketed locally, mainly through greengrocers, farm shops, restaurants and farmers markets. George also sells apple juice produced from his apples, and in October 2010, St Edmunds Pippin juice won 2nd prize at the National Fruit Show. 12 varieties of apple and 6 varieties of plum are grown and George brought the following with him for sample tasting, much to the delight of our guests:
ST Edmund's Pippin (September and October)
An early russet, raised about 1873 at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and named after the town's Saint - quite sweet with a nice balance of acidity.
Egremont Russet (October to December)
Best known of all the russets, with a rich nutty flavour; believed to have been raised in the C19th on Lord Egremont's estate at Petworth in Sussex.
Ribston Pippin (October to December)
Late dessert apple discovered in Knaresborough, Yorks in the C19th century. Good flavour, with a nice balance of acid & sugar and a slight hint of pear drops. One of the best loved apples of the Victorian era.
Cox Lavera (October to January)
A modern cross between the Cox Orange Pippin, raised in about 1825 in Slough, and Lavera. Sweet with intense aromatic flavour
Sturmer Pippin (January to April)
A late season apple raised in Sturmer, near Haverhill, in 1831. It formed the basis of the Australia/NZ apple export trade to UK as it takes a long time to mature - roughly the length of a 10,000 mile ship voyage. A dual purpose apple that stores well - a cooker before Christmas and a dessert apple in the New Year - with a strong aromatic flavour that is both juicy and crisp.
Lady Henniker (November to January)
An old English dual purpose apple with angular shape, raised at Thornham Hall, Eye around 1850. Flavour as dessert is mildly acidic and aromatic but when cooked remains acidic with lovely flavour. Lady Julia Henniker reportedly said of this apple: ”It is a lovely and useful apple as it keeps well after Christmas and makes marvellous baked apple as it is so large” - what more needs saying.
Our guests also got to taste some of George's marvellous St Edmund's Pippin apple juice, pressed by local growers from fruit grown on his orchard, with many guests placing orders for bottles that will easily keep to Christmas (best before October 2016).
George also explained the characteristics of many heritage apples and, significantly, where it is possible to buy bare rooted trees for planting in gardens; hopefully there will now be a small rush to plant some of these historic and important delights in gardens in and around Little Waldingfield.
All in all it was a great experience and hopefully LWHS has played a small part in raising awareness of English, and particularly Suffolk raised heritage apples to help preserve these varieties into the future.
Our next event will be on 18th November at 7.30 in The Parish Room, Little Waldingfield, when Robert Halliday, local historian and author with a long-standing interest in ghost stories, folklore & the paranormal, will share tales & anecdotes about the phantoms & paranormal activity seen across Suffolk. We can't wait and look forward to welcoming guests new and old to the Parish Room for what is sure to be a fascinating, if slightly scary, evening's entertainment.
Andy Sheppard 23rd October 2015