Apples run through Gloucestershire in a crunchy, juicy, sweet and spicy seam. There are Gloucestershire apples for eating, like Ashmead’s Kernel, the apple of William Ashmead, a connoisseur’s apple, sweet, sharp, spicy, with a firm white flesh, and Berkley Pippin, and Flower of the West; and apples for cooking, such as Royal Turk and Transparent Codlin; and apples with resonant names – Foxwhelp, Hagloe Crab an Upright French – for turning into cider, 93 varieties particular to the county, all listed on the Gloucestershire Orchard Group website.
Once Gloucestershire was bursting with orchards and fruit farms, set the length of the Severn valley. This is Gloucestershire of lush, rolling, hedged fields, not sheep-cropped or wheat-deep fields hemmed with dry stone walls, of mellow red brick houses rather than creamy Cotswold stone. In the last 50 years most, 75%, of the old orchards have disappeared. Changes in agriculture and economic pressures and supermarket purchasing policies and consumer ignorance and apathy, a familiar litany, saw to that.
But there are signs of a blossoming renaissance. On a quiet back lane leading out of the village of Brookethorpe, Helen Brent-Smith is getting ready for the new picking season which opens in a few months. She and her husband, Dave Kaspar, will be making apple juice, cider, perry and cider vinegar from unsprayed trees. Once she was a clinical psychiatrist and he was a French and Spanish teacher. Now there are bottles to be washed, the crusher to be checked, the production line to be re-assembled.
If this makes Day’s Cottage seem a bit industrial, it is anything but. Barrels of cider present their fat snouts, lined up in what used to be stalls for cows. Supermarket wire baskets are stacked, ready to carry the apples through the washing process. The production line has been put together by Helen’s dad. The whole thing is fired by energy and enthusiasm, rather than hard-nosed commercial pragmatism.
They started Day’s Cottage apple juices in 1991, in response to a particularly rich harvest which they couldn’t bear to see wasted. An interest became a passion and a passion became a crusade and now they have planted a Museum Orchard of all the Gloucestershire varieties to supplement the apples from her parent’s and her god mother’s orchards, and the orchards of the farmers who meet their stringent standards which form the basis of the crop that makes the juice that ends up in the green bottles, each neatly labelled with the apples that went into them – Taynton Codlin, Ashmead’s Kernel, Rosemary Russet.The first apples will be picked July, and will go onto until the evenings have drawn in late November.
Dave Kaspar and Helen Brent-Smith,
Days Cottage, Upton Lane, Brookthorpe, Gloucestershire GL4 0UT.
Tel: 01452 813602
Gloucestershire Orchard Group website: http://www.orchard-group.uklinux.net/glos/.