This week is National Tree Week, and what better chance than now to pay homage to our own trees in Stockwood’s young orchard. Stockwood’s apple trees grow on dwarfing rootstock close to the centre of the farm, and reflect 2000 years of apple growing tradition in this country.
Whilst apples are considered a quintessentially British fruit, they in fact originate from the wild apple (Malus Sieversii) forests in the foothills of the Tan Shian mountain range in modern day Kazakhstan. Viable seed was carried West, across Europe by land and sea using the Silk Road trading routes. Although there are records of Druids planting sacred apple groves, it seems likely that these were crab apples, and domesticated apples along with cultivating techniques such as grafting arrived in England by the Romans.
There are now 6,000 varieties of apple worldwide, with 2000 British varieties kept at the National Fruit Collection in Kent. That means if you were to eat a different apple variety every day, with British apples alone it would take you 5 years to complete the edible journey.
Each apple variety is unique, and offers something different to the grower, cook and eater. From flowering times to avoid late frosts, to colour, shape, size, taste, storage time, vigour and longevity of tree, the sheer variety of apples in this country is abundant. Worcestershire itself has 28 varieties of apple. My favourite is Worcestershire Pearmain, a delicate dessert apple, one of the early croppers best eaten straight off the tree in September. They are a bright red, round conical apple with crisp white flesh which produce a sweet, light pink apple juice. They have a strawberry like flavour and beautiful blossom, which have made them popular with the RHS since 1875 when Mr Hale of Swan Pool, St Johns, Worcester, won his first award for the variety.
Flavour aside, orchards are important because they provide refuges for wildlife. For example, mistletoe is found frequently in Worcestershire’s orchards, as the domestic apple is one of mistletoe’s favoured hosts. The Mistletoe Marble Moth is a rare species whose larvae feed on mistletoe. This is one example amongst many, and our veteran orchards in Worcestershire are an important part of maintaining habitats for rare and endangered plants and invertebrates. In this way, the young trees at Stockwood are part of a long lineage of fruit growing, and are a needed and colourful tile in the mosaic of traditionally managed orchards across the country.
As it is National Tree Week, we encourage you to go out this week and honour the trees in your life. Whether that is through going for a walk in a local orchard, taking part in the many tree planting ceremonies happening across the country, or trying an unusual variety of apple at your farmers’ market, here is to our homegrown crop.
To end, the words of Gloucestershire native Laurie Lee, ardent lover of apples:
Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.
The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.
They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.
In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.
I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole.
Guest blog written by Ella Hashemi