Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Ashmeads Kernel

We don't have an enormous number of apple trees on our holding but certainly plenty enough for juicing, making cider and storing over winter for cooking. And of course, best of all, munching away at them fresh from the tree from late summer through to autumn as different varieties ripen in turn. Home grown apples (by home I mean UK) exemplify the idea of seasonality, and the season of apples is underway.

Apples are delicious to eat and are such an easy and bountiful crop to grow. They are truly a gift from God, or if you prefer Nature. But apples also demonstrate the ingenuity of humankind. Whilst some varieties are naturally occurring discoveries (most famously the Bramley Seedling) the majoirty have been carefully cultivated by enthusiastic breeders cross pollinating and selecting, patiently improving as they go.

Apples come in such an incredible diversity that the National Fruit Collection in Brogdale in Kent holds 2200 varieties, that is native varieties. You won't find many of these stocked by supermarkets. In fact according to DEFRA 70% of apples bought in the UK are imported. One result of this is that many traditional apple orchards have been grubbed up, unable to compete. This is a real shame because the exquisiteness of so many British apples varieties are unknown to most consumers. 

The varieties we have currently include Blenheim Orange, Lord Derby, Laxton's Fortune, James Grieve, and Bramley. These are all established trees which we inherited. Because we were unsure of the identity of all of these we took examples with us a couple of years ago on a visit to the annual Ely Apple Festival. The East of England Apples and Orchard Project usually have a stand there with a hundred or so varieties of apple on display, each neatly labelled. They also have on hand some apple experts who use their considerable knowledge to answer queries and to help identify apples and they readily confirmed the identity of ours.

One variety I was keen to add to our collection because it is my very favourite apple and of such outstanding flavour, was Ashmeads Kernel. Ashmeads Kernel is an old dessert variety reputedly produced by a Dr Ashmead in Gloucestershire in 1700. It has a more or less russet look but often with the addition of reddish stripes. It has a bit of sheen to it unlike the uniform matt finish of the archetypal russet apple Egremonts Russet. When picked ripe Ashmeads Kernel has a sweet but at the same time slightly acidic flavour and is also quite aromatic. It is crunchy and crisp in texture. It loses some of its acidity when stored. My salivary glands have been triggered into action as I write.

Ashmeads Kernel (Photo: National Fruit Collection, Brogdale)

Where we previously lived I used to buy Ashmeads Kernel when they came into season each year from a nearby farm shop which was an outlet for a small, long established, commercial orchard. They have a wide variety of apples for sale from their orchard as well as a range of other produce. Because I encourage people to try out and buy home grown apples, and because I was always impressed with this farm shop, I'm going to name them: Lathcoats Farm. If you live anywhere in the vicinity of Galleywood on the outskirts of Chelmsford, this time of the year is a great time to call in and sample something new.

Last spring I planted an Ashmeads Kernel tree in great anticipation of future enjoyment. However, a few weeks ago I noticed the leaves had all turned brown. Checking over the tree I discovered that a section of bark all round the young main stem had been stripped off and it was unsalvageable. Squirrels or a rabbit? So today I bought a replacement tree - plus some tree guards. 

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