You can really tell when people are completely passionate about growing things and the way they grow them. Mr and Mrs Worthington are no exception. With an orchard of twelve apple trees, their passion for doing things the old-fashioned way is charming and indeed, what makes visiting the walled garden in the beautiful grounds of their house all the more special. Mr Worthington jokes that it was an EU directive many moons ago about growing French Golden Delicious that prompted him to seek out a grower of old English apple varieties in Oxfordshire to start his very own orchard. With the dimensions of his plot sent off to the ‘apple man’, Mr Worthington was keen to try short stock trees – trees designed not to grow to full height. Mrs Worthington tells me that she really thought “an apple was just an apple” until she started growing her own and now, she believes that the old English varieties are like good wines – “something for all tastes.” The varieties are all very different in taste and often in texture, with fabulous names like The Reverend Wilkes (a ‘cooker’), harking back to a time before apple growing became more commercialised.
Apple harvests vary from year to year and living in a frost pocket can often affect the early flowers but the Worthingtons are happy when the year’s harvest brings them enough to eat and enough to give away. In a good year, there will be no apples from the supermarket but the couple are not adverse to buying the odd bag of apples once they have used all theirs up. This year, though, looks like it will be a glut. Mr and Mrs Worthington gleefully offer me my fill of apples and are tickled pink when I promise that I will take them up on it! I cannot wait to try out the ones only a connoisseur of English apples would recognise. Bees play an important part in seeing that there is a good crop and three hives have been cleverly constructed at the bottom of the orchard to aid pollination. This was certainly a consideration when Mr Worthington planted the trees and as the years have gone on, Mr and Mrs Worthington swear by keeping everything natural, not using pesticides or fertilisers and just letting Mother Nature and her buzzy friends do their job.
I ask about making cider and I am very keen to get an apple press and have a go at home-brewing. Mrs Worthington chuckles to herself and tells me that one year, her husband did make some cider from their apples and stored it in the cellar. However, one lot nearly exploded and the other was left forgotten, until unearthed a few years ago. Mr Worthington reaches for a glass and asks me to taste….the forgotten cider became cider apple vinegar! After that experience, Mr and Mrs Worthington stuck to eating the apples and making juice with the help of a local farmer who pressed and bottled the juice for them. In terms of cider, Mr and Mrs Worthington are sticklers for tradition and believe that cider is best made in the West Country with real cider apple varieties.
A favourite apple recipe I ask? “It has to be Blackberry and Apple Pie for me” pipes Mrs Worthington. Mr Worthington takes his time but chooses good old Apple Crumble. An old fashioned favourite for the man who is passionate about his traditionally grown old English apples!
The Worthington’s Top Tips
Keep it simple and let Nature take its course.
Prune in the autumn to help keep the trees’ shape and to encourage growth for next year’s crop.
When storing your harvest, remember the golden rule “Apples in cellars and pears in the attic”! Apples like cold storage. Mrs Worthington’s top tip – if the apple is bruised in any way, don’t try to store it. As a rule, cooking apples always keep better than eaters.
Apples are ready and ripe when you cut them and the pips are brown.
A guest blog by Rebecca Fletcher of Margot Tries The Good Life.