Apple trees in the snow at Old Hall Community in East Bergholt.
In the foreground of the above photo is a Blenheim Orange and behind to the left, a Bramley. Further back is a D’Arcy Spice. To the right is a James Grieve then behind that is a Sturmer Pippin. There is a Monarch off in the picture to the left. Five days after I had finished pruning these trees, the snow came and settled on every branch and twig. I could not resist a photo opportunity.
The varieties of apple tree you see in this photo are five of the twenty varieties of apple we manage here at Old Hall Community here in the Stour Valley. A total of ninety apple trees in three orchards covering about six acres. Most of the trees are over forty five years old and with careful management will continue to bear fruit for years to come. No chemical fertilizers or nutrients have ever been used on these trees to encourage growth, combat disease or increase storage time. Not since I have been here and that is thirty two years. Some varieties of apple, like for instance the Monarch, are prone to canker attack. Canker is not going to kill a tree if you prune it regularly and cut away cantankerous growth. After forty five years our monarchs have survived and the older the tree the more resilient it becomes. It might look ugly but the trees learn to live with it.
Most of the apple varieties you buy in shops these days are produced for mass consumption. Indeed did you know that many supermarket apples that are sold as fresh can be up to a year old. What keeps them looking fresh is the use of 1-methylcyclopropene. A so-called safe chemical used to prohibit ripening for up to a year from harvesting. However this synthetic chemical that is marketed as being ‘no risk non toxic’ to humans, animals and the environment is strictly regulated regarding its application. Despite it being explosive when warm it is restricted for use in an enclosed environment only, not outside. The people working with it must wear protective PPE and when finished, must not enter the space for thirty minutes after the environment has been vented. It has been found that two of the impurities found in the chemical are also carcinogenic. So much for ‘no risk non toxic’. Since it was first patented in 1996 1-methylcyclopropene has been used extensively on a whole raft of fruit and vegetables found in our supermarkets across the world. Indeed on any perishable goods that need to be stored and transported long distance and across borders to reach our supermarket shelves. All the more reason why we should strive to eat organically grown locally sourced produce. So this wonder chemical is ‘no risk if you wear PPE’ and ‘non toxic if you don’t release it into the environment’.
Back to our own trees starting with the Monarch apple, no longer available in shops. Between the years 1939 and 1947 people in Britain were allowed five teaspoonfuls of sugar per day or two pounds of sugar per month. This level of rationing made it very difficult to make cakes and fruit jams, blackberry, plum, greengage and the like without sugar. Enter the monarch apple. One thing the monarch has is a very high sugar content, in fact the highest sugar content of all culinary apples. This fruit was grown extensively during the war making it the most popular apple around. It makes an excellent baked apple too. Sadly now in the 2020’s it is known only to the apple enthusiasts. We have two trees of this variety both producing good biennial crops.
The Blenheim Orange was found in about 1740 in Oxfordshire near Blenheim Palace. It is one of the most vigorous of all apple trees and if not kept in check will grow to thirty feet (ten metres) or more in height. Hence it needs heavy pruning every few years to keep it down to a manageable height for picking. It produces a heavy crop but about once in every four years will take a rest. Good for making a puree for freezing or to eat with yogurt.
The Bramley needs no introduction. The UK’s most important cooking apple. The original tree in Nottinghamshire was grown from seed in 1809 and is still standing despite it being knocked over in a violent storm in 1900. More than two centuries later this tree is still bearing fruit though sadly in 2016 it was reported to be dying due to a fungal infection.
Next is the D’Arcy Spice. Found around 1785 near Colchester this is our most indigenious apple. A small biennial yellow russetted fruit traditionally picked on Lord Mayors day November 9th. Has a nutty flavour.
The James Grieve was first recorded in 1893. A lovely tasting apple but prone to bruising and should be handled carefully. Very good for juicing. Moderate cropper. Should be ready early to mid September. Prone to canker.
Lastly the Sturmer Pippin. Another native variety was found in 1827 near Haverhill close to the Suffolk border. A late fruit which if looked after and stored well will keep into the following spring. It should be picked in late October or Early November when it is hard, green and almost inedible.
I hope you have enjoyed this little potted history of a few of our apples here at Old Hall Community. I leave you with a photo of the blossom on a Discovery apple. Eat well.
Apple trees in bloom at Old Hall Community in East Bergholt.
This week we’ve handed over the blog to Ordnance Survey Outdoor Champion Barbara Walshe, who lives in Boxted and said in the Gazette that her favourite walk is from Flatford to Dedham.
Barbara plans to walk the Essex Way as well as all sorts of other long distance paths. Read more below or on Barbara’s website www.barbsoutdoors.co.uk
Barbara Walshe writes…
“I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.” Those words, spoken by Celia in ‘As You like It,’ remind me of the first time I stepped off the train at Manningtree in June 2015. The fields were bathed in the warm reds and oranges of the sunset. Though London was only an hour away, we felt we had escaped to some kind of Shakesepearean pastoral idyll. Just under six months later we had sold our flat in London and moved to Boxted near Colchester. My husband and I still work in London but we feel so lucky to be able to enjoy the beautiful countryside in this part of the world.
I have my parents to thank for my love of the outdoors. When I moved to London ten years ago to train to be a lawyer I don’t think I knew that the hours I spent in Richmond Park were not a luxury but were actually a necessity. The importance of time spent outside started to dawn on me when I began my training contract at my law firm and worked very long hours with quite a lot of stress. Going for a run or cycle in the park seemed to make me feel so much better after a tough week. More and more research is showing the positive effects on physical and mental health of being active and being outside. Fortunately, mental health is not the taboo subject it once was and I firmly believe that our own mental health is not something that we should ignore until we reach a crisis. We should consciously try to take care of our mental well-being. Making time to enjoy the outdoors is a crucial part of that.
As we get older we tend to lose our sense of adventure and our sense of wonder. It is so easy to slip into a routine and not take time to explore. When we moved to the Stour Valley I made a conscious decision to explore as much as I could and ordered some Ordnance Survey maps. When I received the paper maps, I discovered the wonderful OS Maps app that allowed me to check I was always on the right track. It was through this I became aware of the Ordnance Survey #GetOutside campaign and was delighted when my application to be a #GetOutside Champion for 2018 was accepted. Being a #GetOutside Champion allows me to combine my love of the outdoors and my belief in the mental health benefits of being outside with my enjoyment of the beautiful landscapes of the Stour Valley.
Through my website www.barbsoutdoors.co.uk I hope to inspire more people to #GetOutside by blogging about my adventures (big and small) and my thoughts on the outdoors. The River Stour Festival has so many fantastic events providing so many opportunities to #GetOutside and I am very much looking forward to attending events throughout 2018 and encouraging others to join me.
My wife is a painter and works for the National Trust. It was with her that I started to explore the valley of the Stour river. I think we are both moved by trees and always have been. That response may be formal – in general landscape goes from side to side and trees go up and down. So for a painter a tree in a landscape is like a mark on a drawing. Our responses may have been to the increased unnaturalness of the post-industrial world we inhabit. We seek out trees in landscape because their scale reflects the human scale and their generally long lifespan appeals to us. Sarah can point to oaks around East Bergholt and Flatford which were there when Constable walked by. It may have been just a colour response – people feel happier, appear handsomer, just look better against a green leafy ground. The effect is doubled if water runs through the scene. The Stour valley is an uplifting place to be.
Of course on the Essex and Suffolk Stour we have the extra element of John Constable. He dominates the landscape as much as he reflects it. Constable’s childhood is just before the industrial revolution and his adult life takes place during it. He lived in East Bergholt and was schooled in Dedham, across the valley and across the Stour. His paintings often feel to me to be reflections on his walk to school – there’s my father’s mill, there’s Fen Lane, there’s the bargemen on the river, there’s our cart and horses. These images stayed with him even though he was in London. His work is a prism through which we see the landscape which both exists and for us – living long after the Industrial Revolution – is like a dream. If you take photographs in the Stour valley, especially close to Dedham and Flatford, you can’t help but find little glimpses of Constable in your pictures. Much has changed but many of the shapes remain – bends in the river, hand-fired brickwork, calves in a field, sometimes even the very same trees he saw. And this remains true though we are 180 years after Constable’s death.