Fruits of Autumn at Mr Straw's House
Early autumn is a magical time of year, when the sunlight starts to turn to a golden shade. At Mr Straw’s House, the orchard comes into its own in September, when the apples and other fruit are ripening on the trees.
The Straw family grew several types of fruit trees – apples, pears and plums. The front garden of No.7 Blyth Grove also contains an elderly mulberry tree, a relatively rare survival.
Every autumn, the fruit would be picked and made into a variety of mouthwatering pies, tarts and crumbles, and the excess would be preserved in jars to be opened and used over the coming months. Numerous jars containing their pickled and preserved contents are still in the house, carefully labelled and dated.
Florence’s recipe book contains a number of dishes that would make use of the produce from the orchard, including apple pudding, apple jelly and apple chutney. There is also a recipe for ‘apple water’ containing ‘6 apples, the rind of one lemon, boiling water and sugar to taste’.
A copy of the original planting plan of the orchard exists, dated 1926, with later additions. Varieties of apple trees include Bramley and Cox’s Orange Pippin, still familiar to us today, but more unusual varieties such as ‘Rev.W.Wilks’, ‘Warner’s King’ and ‘Lord Suffield’ are also represented.
Pear varieties include ‘Beurre D’Amanlis’, ‘Pitmaston Duchess’ and ‘Lord Grosvenor’. Plum varieties include ‘Victoria’, ‘Belgian Purple’ and ‘Pond’s Seedling’.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was an upsurge of interest in different varieties of apple and many cultivars were developed during this period. For example, Rev. W. Wilks, vicar of Shirley in Surrey and secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1888 to 1919 developed his apple in 1904, so it would have been a relatively new variety when the Straw’s planted theirs in 1926.
The most well-known apple locally of course is the Bramley – discovered in a cottage garden in Southwell in Nottinghamshire and still widely grown and used as a cooking apple. The pear variety ‘Pitmaston Duchess’ was introduced in around 1865, the work of a Mr Williams of Pitmaston, Worcester.
Many of these varieties were developed, not by professionals, but by amateur gardeners working in their own orchards, just like the Straw family. Who knows, given time, the Straws may have produced their own variety of apple, pear or plum.