A few weeks ago the Friends Group needed to collect more apples than they could easily find themselves to have enough to make into juice for the opening of the Mead Road Community orchard. An SOS email caused us to have many generous offers of apples which “would otherwise go to waste”, and we easily accumulated the 300 kilos needed for a juicing run at Bensons. Without a large quantity, the juice gets lost in the machinery and the small amount you get out of it may be more of the last person’s than your own!
But back to apples going to waste – orchards should be heaving with apples in autumn, apples with all sorts of different colours, sizes, shapes and tastes. Some varieties ripen early and are sweet in late August and September. Discovery is one of these which is usually the first English apple available in the shops in August, from where they are usually hard and (for me) much too sharp. Left a bit later and/or taken from your own garden they can be wonderfully scented, softer and much sweeter. That is a characteristic of early apples, soft, even woolly, and you can keep them only a very few weeks.
In October, apples that are not yet ready to pick and are still sour are often rejected as being cookers or simply “uneatable”, and left to “go to waste”. Worse still the tree is cut down because it is “useless”. We do not cut down Oak, Beech or Hawthorn trees because their seeds are not good to eat…but let that pass.
Bramley’s Seedling is a justifiably common cooking apple, originally a chance seedling with an interesting history. It was grown from a pip by a young girl called Mary Ann Brailsford girl in her garden in Southwell, Nottinghamshire in 1809. The property was then sold to a local butcher, Matthew Bramley in 1846. In 1856, a local nurseryman, Henry Merryweather, asked if he could take cuttings from the tree and start to sell the trees because they produced excellent fruit. Mr Bramley agreed, but he insisted that the apple trees should bear his name. So maybe the variety should really be called Brailsford, or better still Merryweather (an especially good name for a fruit tree), rather than Bramley.
Whatever the name, put the apples in a cool, mouse-free place (not always easy to find) in late October, and they will keep until the spring and you can have baked apples stuffed with sultanas and almonds all the while.
One of our favourites is Blenheim Orange, known as The Christmas Apple. Blenheims are big, vigorous trees which crop prolifically. The apples are no good at all in October, and by November most people have lost interest and have returned to the supermarkets to buy the hard, green Granny Smiths which television props departments seem to love, and which have probably come from abroad.
Leave Blenheims until late December, however, and you notice one day that they have ripened and are good both for eating straight from the shelf, or cooked in a pie. If the conditions where they are kept are cool enough, they will keep until the spring. Keeping apples through the winter is a lost skill which is well worth reviving.
The range of varieties of fruit trees is immense and only a few are grown commercially. The late-lamented Scotts Nurseries of Merriott produced a catalogue which was a great source of knowledge on fruit varieties; the catalogue (Part 1 is fruit) is sometimes available to buy on Amazon.
Still, there should be just too many apples to be able to eat them all or to store in that elusive cool, mouse-free place. A surplus makes it possible to throw some out into the garden for the birds daily in cold weather, but last year there were so few apples on the trees that we had to buy them in to feed to the birds. Thrushes especially are dependent upon soft food, and blackbirds also seem to prefer an apple to anything else in late winter.
In large gardens and orchards where there remains an abundance of fruit under the trees at Christmas and beyond, Fieldfares and Redwings may gather and join the local birds to feast on the “wasted” apples. To tempt these Arctic thrushes into the garden is a treat for both parties to that deal, and it makes no sense to think that the fruit lying under the trees is made anything other than highly valuable thereby, or that it has been put to very good use.