Discover the apple orchard at Croft Castle
Senior Gardener, Jonathan Kellett, shares the history of our walled garden apple trees and some interesting facts about the Old Herefordshire varieties we look after.
It's believed that the humble apple we know and love on these shores originated from the Tien Shen Mountains on the Kazakhstan/China border. Over time the fruit was carried all the way to Europe along the Silk Road to the Balkans and beyond.
Over the centuries, keen enthusiasts eventually created around 2300 cultivars in the British Isles alone. Old orchards are real cultural landmarks and are living reservoirs of local distinctiveness. They offer a taste of times gone by, extraordinary flavours and culinary revelations.
Although old orchards are relatively common in rural Herefordshire, nationally we have lost around two thirds of our orchards since the 1950s.
The majority of apple trees that we have at Croft were planted (we believe) in the 1920s – judging by some of our archive photos. We have a collection of 60 mature specimens of around 30 different cultivars.
Old Herefordshire varieties at Croft include – Adam’s Pearmain, Brown snout, Doctor Hare, Downton Pippin, Gennet Moyle, King’s Acre Bountiful and Herefordshire Beefing. Beefing comes from the French term 'Beau fin' - slices of apple baked in bread ovens which were popular street food in Victorian times.
The trees are pruned every winter to maintain their shape and vitality. The apples are used in the tearoom throughout the autumn and we sell any spare fruit from a stall in the walled garden – some days we can’t keep up with demand. We have juicing days where we press single varieties to compare the taste. Some of the juice has amazing flavour and depth – nothing like shop bought stuff.
Probably my favourite apple at Croft – the one I quality control the most - is the small but perfectly formed Nutmeg Pippin, firm fleshed and juicy with a spicy after taste and an almost popping candy like effervescence. Pop along to our tasting day to see which is your favourite and take a wander through the apple trees in their autumnal splendour.