Apple days and harvest festivals

Feeling the leaves crunch underfoot, warming up with a comforting stew, and hearing the wind whistle through the branches of a majestic oak. Harvest season is here — the perfect time to taste different varieties of apples, have a go at pressing some yourself, enjoy local cider and try apple bobbing.

Help out with the harvest in festival activities like picking damsons and gathering seeds. Afterwards why not relax in a café and try out some seasonal fruit and vegetables, grown in our kitchen gardens.

The orchards we conserve are full of apples ripe for the picking. Have a go at pressing them at Dinefwr and Hughenden, taste Wimpole’s apple juice produced from trees on the estate, or try apple bobbing at Gibside.

If apples aren’t your thing there’ll be plenty of other harvest treats to try, from heritage tomatoes at Knightshayes to a whole feast of fruits and veg from the kitchen garden at Ham House.

Mother and daughter picking an apple from the tree

Apple day and harvest events 

From tasting the range of heritage apples to having a go at pressing them — or even trying out some archery — there's an apple day or harvest event waiting for you.

Celebrating the harvest

The harvest season has many folklore associations linked to it, with some traditions even continuing to this day.

In pre-industrial Cornwall and Devon, corn dollies were made from the last pieces of corn. These dollies were then exchanged between couples as favours between them, or used as centrepieces for celebratory meals after the harvest ended.

In West Cornwall, 'Allantide' is still celebrated, a local alternative to Halloween which is centred around the apple and harvest season.

Harvest feasts are also traditional, as people in places such as Yorkshire would take part in 'churn suppers'. They were named this because traditionally, farmers would bring out full churns of cream to reward those who had taken part in that year's harvest activities. 

Orchard care

The orchards we care for provide vital habitats for many creatures such as the lesser spotted woodpecker, bats and mistletoe moths. However, nationally the number of orchards has declined by 63% since the 1950s.

Taking care of the remaining orchards involves pruning and grafting in order to preserve and manage these historical environments and their apple varieties. It’s our aim that by 2025, 68 new orchards will be planted at places in England and Wales to encourage even more species to settle down.

We help to conserve hundreds of heritage apple varieties to keep the history of these special orchards alive. These include Ashmead's Kernel (1700), Winter Queening (17th century), Coer de Boeuf (13th century) and Flower of Kent (1629), which is the variety that inspired Isaac Newton's theory of gravity. 

Staff member picking apples at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire
Staff member picking apples for the harvest
Staff member picking apples at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire
Seasonal produce

Heritage conservation doesn’t just include artworks or objects, but it can include historical varieties of seasonal produce to keep historical gardens alive.

This time of year, gardeners at these special places are harvesting produce such as beetroots, potatoes, leeks, beans, carrots – and of course, apples – in the gardens we help to look after.

These gardeners would be more than happy to show you how the harvest is done, especially how they can tell when the fruit and vegetables are ripe and ready to be included in some tasty creations.

Tuck into seasonal treats

Eating food that’s in season is also a great choice if you’re trying to live more sustainably, and you’ll find delicious seasonal treats at many of our cafés and restaurants.

Tuck into some moist beetroot cake at Beningbrough’s kitchen garden, enjoy a root vegetable stew made from produce grown in Churchill’s garden at Chartwell, or have a taste of history at Tatton Park, where Edwardian varieties such as ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans and local ‘British Queen’ potatoes can be bought and sampled at the estate.

The kitchen garden at Avebury Manor, Wiltshire

Top kitchen gardens 

Sustainable food production is a big shift in food culture, and we're leading the way at many of our kitchen gardens. Here's our pick of the best.