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Gressenhall Farm diary: The famous Norfolk apples that inspired Dickens

PUBLISHED: 12:51 29 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:51 29 April 2020

Reg the horse at Gressenhall Farm. Picture: Gressenhall Farm

Reg the horse at Gressenhall Farm. Picture: Gressenhall Farm

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As part of a weekly diary, Gressenhall Farm reflects on Norfolk Biffin apples, which made an appearance in a Charles Dickens novel.

The historical East Anglian apple and pear orchard at Gressenhall Farm. Picture: Gressenhall FarmThe historical East Anglian apple and pear orchard at Gressenhall Farm. Picture: Gressenhall Farm

Have you seen all the blossom around the hedgerows and in the orchards? It is blooming marvellous!

Our bees have certainly been enjoying it (and all the dandelion pollen too!).

They are buzzing around our orchard and taking advantage of all the different historical East Anglian apple and pear varieties planted there.

The orchard was first planted after the workhouse burial ground was closed in 1900.

The river walk at Gressenhall Farm. Picture: Gressenhall FarmThe river walk at Gressenhall Farm. Picture: Gressenhall Farm

The burial ground was in use between 1785 and 1900. Inmates were buried here if it was not possible to provide a burial for them in their own parish.

In 1904 a memorial plaque was erected and shortly after that the first apple trees were planted. We believe some of the older trees in the orchard are still these original plantings. Although very elderly they continue to produce fruit through the grafting of different varieties to the old stock.

Since the museum opened in 1975 we have planted and grafted traditional East Anglian apple and pear varieties in the orchard with the help and advice of the East of England Apples and Orchards Project. One of our favourites is the Norfolk Biffin.

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This variety was first recorded in Mannington in 1698 and was well loved by the Victorians. It is a very hard and sharp eating apple which stores extremely well.

These “biffins” were sold in London, particularly at Christmas time, as delicacies. Charles Dickens even writes about a biffin in ‘A Christmas Carol’. Sounds delicious!

Our apple trees were all pruned in the Autumn and are in good shape, ready to produce fruits for our popular annual Apple Day in October.

We can’t wait to be wassailing and sampling juice and cider with our lovely visitors!

This week we heard the first cuckoo. A regular visitor to the farm it was wonderful to hear the familiar call – the traditional harbinger of Spring. We also saw our first swallows.

As the weather improves, we have been shearing the sheep and preparing them for the hotter temperatures. This is perfect weather for the horses, however, warm but not too hot and no flies to bother them!

We hope you are enjoying the blossoms – in your garden or on your daily exercise. Remember they are a reminder of the fruitful times ahead!

We are certainly looking forward to celebrating Apple Day with you all.

•Gressenhall Farm have teamed up with the Eastern Daily Press to bring you a weekly diary of what is going on behind the scenes at the farm


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