Updated: Dec 22, 2018
"Apple of my eye", "bad apple", "don't upset the apple -cart", "the Big Apple" and the list goes on. Apples are certainly part of British and Western culture. With over apple 120 trees in the orchard at West Bastlebog House, plus plums, cherries, figs, apricots and a couple of vines, Andrew and Alexa are gradually discovering a whole world of top fruit out there. In this diary entry they try to come to terms with pruning, what to do with sack loads of apples and the search for the perfect gluten free apple crumble topping. Any advice welcomed!
We all see the apples in the supermarket but they're broadly limited to Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, plus a few other. Although blemish free and shiny, they're frequently tasteless, have been grown on the other side of the world and often, according to my brother-in-law who used to work for Maersk Shipping and is pictured picking apples above, are picked up to eight months before they reach the consumer and sit in climatically controlled containers until needed. No wonder the taste and health benefits are secondary to appearance. Here are West Bastlebog House apples are one of the big features and the quality of the two late varieties was fantastic. Annie Elizabeth was a favourite of mine and we are even still picking them at the end of December and after a few frosts.
I am now beginning to learn a bit about the sheer breadth and range of the fruit, it's huge development in the Victorian period and some of the more interesting (I would say 'exciting' but that may come across as being obsessed) varieties that are around. The previous owners did a fantastic job over 14 years planting lots of different top fruit. Unfortunately not much pruning and maintenance appears to have been done since then.
A fortnight ago we enlisted the expertise of John Hancox of Scottish Heritage Fruit Trees who visited us from Glasgow. To say he's just an expert would to be do him a disservice; he lives and breathes apples from what we could tell. With a bit of tuition I learned how assess the tree for pruning, spot and deal with diseases such as canker and the tasks to get the orchard under control and get rid of the vast quantities of rotting fallen fruit. Bring on the hens and geese!
When's the best time to plant a new orchard? Twenty years ago, I'm told. And the second best time? Now. At the risk of biting off more then we can chew, we are going to plant another 100 apple trees. A selection of another ten Scottish Heritage varieties but mostly Bloody Ploughman. A superb Scottish apple with a gory history! The Bloody Ploughman was first recorded in 1883. It originates from the Carse of Gowrie. It is a medium to large apple and is one of the best Scottish midseason eaters picked in September/ October. A ploughman was caught stealing apples from the Megginch Estate and shot dead by a gamekeeper. When his body was returned to his wife she found some of the stolen apples in his pockets and threw them onto the rubbish heap. One of the seedlings that arose from the heap bore apples of a deep, blood red. This tree was rescued and gave rise to the variety that was named after the unfortunate ploughman. Or so the story goes. It will be three to five years before we hope to start getting decent crops so we will have to be patient. That said I think the 120 or so trees we currently have should be enough for now.
"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." - Jane Austen
Alexa has been making apple crumble every second day however that is unlikely to be a festive feature as the Aga-style range packed twice in yesterday leaving us without heat, hot water and an oven. We managed to get it started last night but fear another big unexpected expense is on the horizon. Luckily we are not hosting for Christmas! It looks like it might be less of the crumbles for a while and more of the Waldorf salad to use these apples. Any other NON-OVEN recipes suggestions welcomed. We better get used to eating, cooking and drinking them. In the meantime we are having fun blending our apple juices and may even be able to start offering Scottish organic apple juice next year.
We are having some success in the mouse catching front with six now trapped and dispatched. The kids are enjoying checking the traps each morning and are even disappointed when there's no trapped mouse. Although Alexa has twice seen a mouse jumping out the toaster which shows we have still got a little way to go to solve the problem. In January we are picking up a cat from Borders Pet Rescue. I'm hoping it'll be a 'farmyard cat' and not live in the house but suspect I'll be overruled from most quarters of my clan . After all my grandmother always sent birthday and Christmas gifts to us from her pets. If Lucky, as the unfortunate cat is currently named, sorts out our mouse problem and is clean then who am I to argue?
This weekend we shall be trying to get to know the Gavinton community through various Christmas events that are on the village hall including a film, pie and peas night tonight. We also look forward to sharing our exploits and hope that 2019 is a productive year. Farming is, after all, the profession of hope. Until next time I shall leave you with some more of the stunning sunrises that we are fortunate to be greeted by most mornings.
The Bastlebog sunrises