If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then Kent really should be one of the healthiest places in the country! In the Garden of England, we have an abundance of orchards thanks to King Henry VIII, whose love of fruit led to the planting of many fruit orchards in the region, a farming tradition that continues today.
Apples and pears are often associated with this autumnal time of year and we have so many fantastic orchards on our doorstep here in Kent (I was at Bentinck Farm, Pembury earlier in the year and they have a beautiful orchard!) that we are really spoiled for choice when it comes to fruit varieties and fruit produce! Did you know that we are even home to the National Fruit Collection?
Brogdale Farm in Faversham is where the National Fruit Collection resides. Here you will find just several different fruits but thousands of different varieties. The farm cultivates the largest genetically living collection of apples in one place with over 2,200 varieties! That’s an apple a day for over six years!
Apple crumble is a mainstay of the Great British menu, and as utterly delicious as it is, I wanted to tell you about how apples are being used in exciting, creative and award-winning ways across the county.
Charrington’s is a family-owned apple producing farm based in Matfield, Kent. In spring and summer, when the apple trees are in blossom, Alex Charrington will guide you round the extensive orchards; it really is a sight to behold with beautiful apple blossom as far as the eye can see! He explains how the trees are nurtured to protect them from cheeky wildlife and to allow them to flourish in the temperate climes of the Kent countryside.
Charrington’s grow Cox’s, Russet and Bramley apples and some of their harvest can be found in supermarkets up and down the land. I say ‘some’ as the farm also produces award-winning cider and sparkling cider, alongside tasty and healthy apple crisps!
Coronavirus has not thrown them off course and they have continued to deliver their ciders and snacks across the county and beyond to loyal fans and new, which is a similar story to Will Edge over at Greensand Ridge distillery in Shipbourne. He is using his award-winning gin distillation skills and network of local fruit suppliers to create fruit spirits with apple brandy being one of them.
Will’s business is all about sustainability and the apples he uses are surplus to requirements – the farm supplier has satisfied its quota for supermarkets and juicing and what’s left is sent to Greensand Ridge. Will presses the apples by hand (perhaps with an army of helpers!), they then go through the fermentation and distillation process and after a couple of years, ta-dah! you have apple brandy! This is a real ‘cradle to cradle’ process with the residual apple skins and pulp being sent back to the farm to be fed to the boars they rear!
Alongside the apples, cherries, plums and cobnuts at the National Fruit Collection, are pears. Pears are a trickier fruit than apples (who’s seen that great Eddie Izzard sketch about fruit bowls and the big culprit, pears?!) and although they do have a fanbase, they’re not at the core of the weekly shop in quite the same way as apples. Pears have been in the UK for centuries, though – they are mentioned in the Domesday Book – and these days, the most recognisable variety in the UK is Conference which was created in 1885 and accounts for 90% of commercial pear production. David Long of Marshgate Farm, Cooling, Kent is an award-winning pear producer thanks to the quality of his pears and his orchard management.
There are so many fruit producers in Kent and around that Henry VIII really did leave a great legacy! Such is the region’s pride in our plentiful fruit, at the annual Produced in Kent, Taste of Kent Awards, there is a category for best apple and best pear as well as best cider or perry (cider’s lesser-known pear equivalent).
But Kent isn’t the only place where apples and pears will thrive and just down the road in Limpsfield is the Limpsfield Common community orchard which is run in conjunction with the National Trust. This was an area of ‘waste’ land which a local lady turned into an orchard with the help of the National Fruit Collection team. The area is now used by the community, school and shop with apple-centric events throughout the year.
Apple and pear trees are hardy and can really stand the test of time, a garden staple through the centuries, from one generation to the next.