Notes from a newcomer
Marion waxes lyrical about old Norfolk Apples
Notes from a newcomer
Apples are among the pleasures of living in Norfolk. No doubt there are other parts of the country where old fruit trees are still to be found but we are fortunate to have many around here and it always gives me a thrill to see a gnarled survivor from yesterday's orchards loaded with autumn fruit - like the little tree on the lay-by on the A 134, just after the Wereham roundabout. Did you notice its yellow fruit glowing on the bare branches in November? People sped past in their cars - probably on their way to buy commercially produced
apples from Tesco's. I hope some of the truck-drivers, grabbing a quick snack at Caz's Cafe, picked one to munch as they went on their way. More likely, they were left for the hedgehogs to nibble.
My fondness for Norfolk apple trees was first inspired by the fine old tree that grew in the garden of our cottage in Oxborough. I was intrigued to learn that apple trees were once so specific to a region that many were named after the village where they were grown. Did you know there was a Foulden Pearmain, for example? Or an Emneth Early? I cherished the romantic hope that, having once been part of the Bedingfeld estate, our tree might have an interesting local history. But I never did get round to identifying it and as it was recently chopped down by the present occupant its name will remain an unsolved mystery.
The names of apples are part of their magic. Even Golden Delicious sound better than they taste! I recently went to a talk on this fascinating subject given by a man from the East of England Apple & Orchards Project. He identified the apple from my present neighbour's tree as a Newton's Wonder (an excellent cooker and not a bad eater, if you like your apples a little on the sharp side). I asked him why the Wisbech area had been so popular for growing fruit and he told me that the land was originally given over to orchards because it was so difficult to work that sturdy cart horses died in the effort to cultivate it. Now there's a sobering thought.
It is all too easy to forget how very tough rural life was before farming was modernised. Mary Mann, a Victorian novelist who lived at Shropham in south Norfolk, never glossed over the poverty and suffering of village life at that time. One of her stories 'The Witch of Dulditch' is a dark tale of a hard-working woman who is housekeeper to a Mr George Ganders. Mr Ganders' pride and joy is his orchard. He carefully stores his apples in straw in the drawers of a large cupboard and it his boast that he has an apple to eat every single day of the year.
"His talk was ever of 'Norfolk biffens', of 'Rollands', of 'Ribstone
pippins', of 'Pearmains'. If two or three of the codlings went rotten,
or a 'Dr Harvey' had to be thrown away, the fact afforded master
and servant after-dinner conversation for a month." Hold on - a
whole month spent talking about a rotten apple? It makes you
wonder if we have been over hasty in blaming television for
killing the art of conversation!