Friday, 15 August 2008

Orchard Hunting

Traditional orchards are rewarding places to explore at any time of the year. Spring blossom time is the highlight for many, but fruitful Summertime, and the stark beauty of a slumbering Winter orchard are equally magical to me. I never tire of the changing seasons, which play out so clearly in a mature orchard.

The picture above, as tranquil a scene of rural England as your likely to find, could easily have been captured in any one of hundreds of unspoilt traditional orchards throughout the West Country, but in fact it was taken this week in the heart of rural Rutland following a spot of Summer orchard hunting.

As a small-scale cidermaker keen to create ciders from locally grown apples, searching out new sources of available fruit has become a bit of an obsession. Driving through villages and open countryside at this time of year, I've always got half an eye on the gardens and farmland I pass, constantly on the lookout for the remnants of old, neglected orchards, or maybe just a single tree laden with a heavy crop of rosy apples. Not every apple tree produces fruit suitable for making good cider, but you'd be surprised how much of this bountiful harvest goes to waste. Very few people seem to know what to do with a glut of apples these days. The crafts of baking, preserving, and just plain enjoying an apple straight from the tree, are sadly dying out.

Sad yes, but quite an opportunity for us, since many of the people we ask are more than happy for us to deal with the nuisance of a heavy crop of apples littering their gardens. The sheep have this small orchard to themselves at the moment, but come late September the owners have kindly given us access to harvest the apples for our cidermaking. It remains to be seen how much fruit the sheep will leave for us, but even if it's only a couple of sacks full, the chance to spend time gathering apples in this lovely space can be nothing less than a total pleasure.

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