Sunday, 31 July 2011

Discovery - To Buy or Not To Buy...

Current orchard gossip suggests that apples are ripening earlier this year than ever before. I view this news with a mixture of mild curiosity and blind panic. I'm really not ready to press apples yet. Can orchard fruit please stop ripening.

This untimely rumour, put about by the heavyweight intellectuals of Radio 4 no less, needed some further investigation, so I've been out 'in the field' as it were, investigating.

Yesterday I went for a short walk, from the sleepy Northamptonshire village of Holcot, over the causeway of Pitsford Reservoir and up the hill to Brixworth, home of the eponymous Pate. It was a pleasant walk in fine Summer sunshine, all the more so when I finally managed to get off the busy main road and strike out across parched pasture and stubbly Wheat fields. The presence of the Reservoir helps to boost the wildlife count in this area. I was particularly pleased to disturb as many Brown Hares as I can remember seeing in recent years (that'll be three if you must know).

So much for grassy fields, walking along grass verges has little to recommend it. Fast traffic, rough ground, limited views, all make for very dull walking indeed. On the plus side, many verges double up as linear orchards, populated by a rag-tag of wild grown apple trees often seeded from a causally thrown apple core (something I make a habit of doing myself). These pip-grown apple trees are a bit of a genetic lottery, never growing true from the apple they came from. For the most part they're likely to be of little value, but fun can be had in the possibility that one or two may just be the next Cox Orange Pippin, or Yarlington Mill. The road which climbs from the reservoir towards Brixworth has a few likely specimens, though I was more interested in their stage of ripeness than whether they'd make my fortune with the supermarkets.

The first tree I came to was laden with small-ish fruit, green with a rosy blush. These were sweet and crunchy in a Jonagold kind of way, not quite fully ripe, but pleasant enough to eat. The next tree yielded medium size fruit as sour as anything I've put in my mouth. Truly horrible. On to the next tree which had larger fruit, hard, sweet and low in acidity like a Spartan. Not too bad, but still a little way off ripeness. The final tree was classic Crab Apple, small green fruit, perhaps even sharper than the previous sour specimen. Nasty, and a very good example of why it's rarely a good idea to follow the frequently given advice of adding a few crabs to your cider for their tannin. My advice is to always taste first, you really wouldn't want these in anything you're planning to drink.

A mixed bag then. I probably wouldn't have expected to find edible apples in the hedgerow at this time of year, but there are varieties which ripen this early, including Beauty of Bath and Irish Peach (see here:, so perhaps we're not that far off.

One variety I can fairly comfortably use to gauge the progress of the season is the early variety Discovery, which usually appears in the better grocers round here a week or so into September. I bought my first clutch of Discovery this Friday, maybe a week or two earlier than usual. I'm a big fan of Discovery. I love the aromatic quality of this apple, and delicate floral flavour and soft acidity. Sadly I've been disappointed with most of what I've bought in recent years. Under-ripe apples are never exciting, so I wasn't expecting great things from this latest purchase. I'm pleased to say though, that despite the pips not being as deep a brown as I'd like, the flavour of these are very good, and probably not far off their peak. I recommend you get out there and buy some while they're available.

So an interesting bit of 'research', from which I'm none the wiser to be honest. I really do hope that the season is not as advanced as predicted. I wasn't joking when I said I wasn't ready to press apples yet. There's work to be done in the ciderhouse yet...

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