Where to find Norfolk apple varieties
- Credit: Archant
With the apple harvest still in full swing, here are some of the delicious home-grown varieties you can find in Norfolk.
Andrew Jamieson of Drove Orchards is a man who certainly knows his apples.
On his return from the war, his father, Major David Jamieson, who won the Victoria Cross for his part in the Normandy Landings, began planting Cox’s Orange Pippin trees beside the A149 coast road at Thornham. Today the orchards have branched out to cover 40 acres of the 350-acre farm, growing more than 160 varieties of apple, around 120 of which are East Anglian heritage varieties.
Recently Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc took to Twitter to say that it was “shocking” to see high street stores laden with imported fruit, which is currently in its prime harvesting season – and he’s embarked on a personal mission to make Brits fall back in love with local fruit.
Even though British growers are expected to harvest around 148,700 tonnes of apple and pears in 2020, this country still imports just over 476,000 tonnes of apples per year.
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Initially the apples grown at Drove Orchards found their way to the London produce markets, then the supermarkets. But when Andrew took over the farm in the 1980s, he took the decision to stop supplying supermarkets.
“Back then an apple was seen as a generic thing,” says Andrew. And because supermarkets demanded apples year-round they had to be in cold storage for up to a year, which, he says, impacted on the quality and flavour.
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“To make an apple picked in autumn last it has to be picked when un-ripe and when it reaches the shops it tastes over-ripe and under-ripe at the same time,” he says. “So I decided that I wanted to grow apples that I felt proud of.
“I felt there was a need to demonstrate the variety to people, so I started planting more apple varieties: Discovery, Worcester Pearmain, Laxton’s Fortune, Egremont Russet, D’Arcy Spice. I also grow one called Elstar, another one that never took off commerically, because it bruises.”
Taking things a stage further, Andrew started to plant rarer apples and he decided to try and find as many East Anglian varieties as he could.
Until the 1920s, when more was understood about the genetics of producing apples, most apple trees were ‘chance seedlings’. And they were often names after the place where they came from. Some of them are from very close to home indeed, including Lynn’s Pippin and, one of Andrew’s personal favourites, the Norfolk Royal Russet, from Burnham Overy Staithe.
“There is probably a very good reason some of the varieties died out, but it has been a fun thing to do,” says Andrew.
Fruit is sold from the Drove Orchards Farm Shop – visitors can pick their own apples, pears and seasonal soft fruits – and selected farmers’ markets. They also press their own apple juice and produce cider.
The apple harvest spans several months. It begins in August with early varieties including Discovery and goes right through until the end of October/ beginning of November when varieties such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Gold Crown, Suffolk Pink, D’Arcy Spice and Norfolk Royal Russets will be at their best.
“The apples which come in October have a more complex taste and last longer,” says Andrew. “I really like russets,” he continues. “And Crown Gold is a lovely fresh-tasting apple. My personal favourite is D’Arcy Spice – as the name suggests it’s slightly spicy. If you store it, by Christmas it will taste delicious.”
When it comes to cooking apples, two local varieties, Norfolk Beefing and Norfolk Beauty, are favourites alongside the traditional Bramley.
“Both of them are very good bakers,” says Andrew.
He says that this year’s apple harvest has been good. The early sunshine meant that there was lots of blossom, which was good for pollination. “The bees got out and raced around,” says Andrew. And while they were short on water, he describes the crop as “fantastic”.
“It tastes delicious and overall it’s been a good year.”
And although it is still quite hard to find home-grown apples in supermarkets, Andrew thinks that the appetite for English fruit is growing.
“But I think people are much more conscious of British farming history and horticulture and I think that it’s up to the supermarkets to catch up wth that. The people I meet are really interested and love hearing about this apple and that, so there is a real understanding about English fruit.”