An apple a day

Posted By on 17th August 2016

It looks like it’s going to be an excellent year for my apples. I got the trees pruned hard last year – for the first time in decades – and the results are astonishing.

The trees are now smaller, allowing more light into the garden and making it much easier to reach the weeds and cut the grass underneath. And yet already the branches are groaning under the weight of Lord Hindlip’s finest.

You might not have heard of Lord Hindlip. He was a Conservative politician of the Victorian era, from Worcestershire, who gave his name to a very fine desert apple.
I’m biased, of course, but I do think the Lord Hindlip apple is one of the tastiest fruits you can grow in Britain. You can also use it for cooking; this year I think I will have to make industrial quantities of juice, if the apples are not to go to waste.
Many years ago, when the orchard in the top field was part of a working farm, part of the labourers’ wages would have been paid in cider. It is interesting to see how the revival of Cornwall’s craft cider industry is boosting the rural economy.
Hardly a day passes now without someone starting a new micro-cider farm somewhere in Cornwall. Most will have started their cider-making as a hobby. Many now work at it full-time and some even employ one or two people to help.
In all the fuss over the Brexit debate recently, one of the facts that tended to be overlooked was that the UK government had successfully resisted the siren calls of Brussels to levy a tax on small-scale cider producers.
The European Commission had wanted British cider brought into line with the rest of the EU. The exemption, worth about £2,700 a year since 1976, had been under threat. But former Chancellor George Osborne listened to the advice from the Campaign for Real Ale and maintained the tax break for those cider makers who produce less than 12,000 pints per year – which is 80 per cent of the domestic cider market.
As we head towards Philip Hammond’s first, post-Brexit budget this autumn, I wonder if there will be any further encouragement for local food and drink producers.
It is such a shame that these days most of us buy our apples from supermarkets – 482,000 tonnes a year. Yet just two varieties, Gala and Braeburn, both natives of New Zealand, make up almost half of British sales.
According to the National Fruit Collection, we could eat a different home-grown apple every day for six years and still not have sampled them all. There are no doubt commercial reasons for this, not least economies of scale.
My Lord Hindlips keep well for up to two months, but after that they get a bit soft. And because, while they still hang from the trees, I tend to share them with birds and insects, they sometimes bear the scars of battle. I doubt they would sell very well in New Zealand. I’m not rushing to negotiate my own post-Brexit trade agreement.